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Science Council not to support construction of International Linear Collider in Japan

TOKYO -- The Science Council of Japan (SCJ) compiled a draft opinion on Dec. 19 in favor of not supporting a plan to invite to the country the International Linear Collider (ILC), massive experimental equipment for the exploration of the mysteries of the universe, saying that the collider's expected scientific findings would not justify its huge construction and maintenance costs.

The government has the final say in approving or turning down the project's construction in Japan, but it is likely to follow the draft SCJ opinion, which was to be formally approved by a directors' meeting of the council later in the day.

Japanese researchers and municipalities promoting the project, initially planned for the Kitakami Mountains spanning Iwate and Miyagi prefectures in northeastern Japan, now face an extremely tough battle to reach their goal.

The ILC accelerates electrons and positrons to extremely high speeds and makes them collide, creating particles called Higgs bosons that are considered to be the origin of mass. Under the current plan, the machine would be constructed 100 meters underground at a length of 20 kilometers. Its construction is estimated to cost some 800 billion yen, and Japan would have to shoulder around half the cost should it invite the collider to be built in the country. The facility would be costly even after construction, requiring some 40 billion yen per year for management.

The science council draft opinion questions the cost-benefit effectiveness of the project, saying that council members "have not reached an understanding that scientific achievements will sufficiently compensate the massive cost." The council also indicated concerns about potential safety issues associated with the collider's construction and management, as well as the lack of a clear-cut agreement with other stakeholders abroad on how to share the costs.

An initial plan envisioned the ILC to be about 30 kilometers in length, but the science council, a gathering of the nation's leading scientists, asked for postponing the project in 2013 saying the timing was not right to proceed. The plan has since been scaled down, and a group of European researchers promoting the project has asked the Japanese government to issue its opinion by the end of this year because they wanted to incorporate the project in its five-year plan for major scientific undertakings. The SCJ was asked by the education ministry to evaluate the plan.

(Japanese original by Yui Shuzo, Science & Environment News Department)

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