What is the ILC?
The International Linear Collider (or ILC) will be one of the world’s largest scientific endeavors. Built within a 20 km (and could be elongated to up to 50 km) tunnel underground, the state-of-the-art electron and positron collider will change our understanding of the universe. Scientists and engineers worldwide are collaborating to realize this once-in-a-lifetime project.
How does the ILC work?
The ILC will accelerate a beam of electrons and positrons to nearly the speed of light to collide them against each other. The particle collisions at the center of the machine will recreate the conditions just after the Big Bang, revealing what happened at the beginning of the universe. The collision will also create many diverse particles, including the Higgs boson, the particle responsible for mass. By measuring these particles, we will be able to start tackling a mystery that has long plagued the human race – How did mass and the universe come into existence?
In addition, accelerator technologies developed here can be used in so many diverse fields such as medicine, biology, the creation of new materials, information/communications, measurements, the environment, and energy.
The Kitakami mountain range in southern Iwate fits the geographical requirements for the ILC – an absence of man-made vibration and the presence of hard, stable bedrock without any active earthquake faults. The site is straddled between Oshu City and Ichinoseki City, with a 50km stretch of stable granite bedrock free of active fault lines. Additionally, the site is close to Sendai, Tohoku’s largest city, and has access to major ports for heavy shipping.
Will it really come to Iwate?
Currently, Japan is regarded as the likely candidate, and plans are moving forward with the Kitakami site in mind.
When will this happen?
After the candidate sites have been evaluated and decisions are made by the Japanese government, inter-governmental negotiations will take place. If Iwate is selected, construction will then start. Operations are expected to commence in the latter half of the 2020s.
How much will it cost?
The ILC is expected to cost around 830 billion yen (7.8 billion dollars US). If Japan is selected as the ILC host site, it is estimated that the Japanese government will be responsible for about half of that amount. However, this amount does not include the costs for construction of the research center buildings, roads for the research center, housing for researchers, or other related facilities.
How long will it take to complete construction?
The selection of the site will take place in the mid 2010s. After that, construction of the facilities will take about 10 years, so completion is scheduled for the latter half of the 2020s.
How deep will digging be for the ILC tunnel?
In the current plans, it is assumed that the tunnel will in a mountainside at an elevation of 100m (it will not be 100m underground). Therefore, the depth of the tunnel from the surface will differ depending on the location. For example, on a mountain at 500m elevation, it would be dug 400m below the surface, but where a river is running at an elevation of 150m, the position would be 50m below the surface.
The elevation of the Kitakami River area, which hosts the city centers of Oshu and Ichinoseki, is between 30m and 50m (the elevation of Oshu City Hall is 52.7m and Ichinoseki City Hall is 30.9m), so the ILC tunnel will be dug in a location higher than that.
Will it affect the environment?
The project will largely be located in an underground facility, and we are committed to minimizing any effects to the environment. Construction will strive to avoid the habitats of important plants and animals, and a thorough assessment of the natural environment will be undertaken.
What about earthquakes?
Researchers believe that shaking or vibrations should have little effect on the ILC because it will be built below ground in stable bedrock. If an earthquake does occur, all operations will come to an immediate stop.
Currently, there is already a scientific research facility in a tunnel in the Kitakami mountains called the Esashi Earth Tides Station. This facility registered no damage from the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.
The Big Bang? Isn’t that dangerous?
The ILC should be able to recreate the conditions of the Big Bang, but in such an infinitesimal scale and with such a little amount of energy expended that it will immediately extinguish itself.
Will there be enough electricity for such a big facility?
The electricity required for operation of the ILC will be 160,000 kilowatts, and it has been determined that the current electrical supply system is sufficient. In addition, operations will be stopped during periods of high electricity demand.
Will only researchers be coming to Tohoku?
We expect that research labs and companies that want to apply the results of the ILC research will expand into the surrounding area. It is also thought that a variety of other companies will move into the area as well, such as companies to maintain the ILC facility and businesses providing services to the families of researchers. Naturally, people in related fields from all over Japan will move to the area in addition to the researchers from other countries, and there it is expected that local residents will also benefit significantly from the ILC project.
How long will research be carried out?
The CERN research center has been operating for approximately 60 years and is currently still in operation. Research for the first phase of the ILC (31 kilometer accelerator) will last 20 years.
However, we doubt researchers will abandon the project and the ILC disassembled once the currently conceivable research is completed.
As research progresses, new experiments may become necessary, or new questions may arise.
This facility, which is a huge investment from both Japan and countries all around the world, is intended to be used for many years to come.
Will the ILC be used to process high-level radioactive waste once the research is completed?
The depth and configuration of the ILC tunnel will not be suitable for use in the processing of any kind of nuclear waste.
The prefecture has clearly stated that even if the topic were to be discussed, the ILC will never be converted for such a purpose.