According to Nature, Japan is the frontrunner for the planned International Linear Collider (ILC), for which Europe and the United States are also in the running to host. Scientists and engineers are already examining potential sites in the island nation for the US$7 to $8 billion machine, which is intended to complement the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN. The head of the global design effort for the ILC, physicist Barry Barish, presented finalized blueprints at a ceremony in Tokyo earlier this month.
Unlike the LHC located near Geneva in Switzerland, which has a ring-like shape, the ILC would be straight and 31 km (19.2 miles) long. It would house 16,000 superconducting cavities that can accelerate particles to 500 gigaelectronvolts, with the possibility of doubling that with a later upgrade. More importantly, unlike the LHC’s protons (which produce unwanted debris), the ILC would collide electrons and positrons, giving scientists a clearer look at the Higgs when they collide.
Because it is a linear collider, the ILC won’t be able to collide particles with the same levels of energy possible with the LHC, whose circular shape allows particles to be run through the accelerator multiple times. But, unlike the LHC, the ILC is better able to accelerate light particles, such as electrons, which lose energy through synchrotron radiation when accelerated through circular magnetic fields.
If the ILC is built in Japan, the dangers from earthquakes and flooding would prohibit it from being build underground like the LHC, which is “technically completely different than what we were looking at,” said Barish. At either of the proposed Japan locations it would have to be built above ground, and they would need to carve into a mountain to make room for it. However, Barish says, “both sites would be excellent sites for an accelerator.”
“It’s either Japan or it’s going to be on the shelf for a while,” Barish warns. Construction could begin by the end of the decade if an agreement can be reached in the next few years. Japan has expressed interest in hosting a large-scale international project before: in 2005 they put in a bid for the US$17 billion dollar ITER fusion reactor, which they lost to France.
The ILC now enjoys strong political support in Japan, and a portion of the funds earmarked for reconstruction following the devastating earthquake and tsunami of 2011 could be put towards the project, and the EU would likely contribute on some level to reciprocate Japanese contributions to the LHC.