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Berkeley Lab, South Dakota Contingent Map DUSELís Future
By Dan Krotz

Berkeley Lab hosted a group of South Dakota officials and congressional staffers Dec. 6-7 to discuss a roadmap for the next phase of the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL), a multipurpose research facility that is slated to be developed at Homestake, a former gold mine in the Black Hills, near Lead, South Dakota.

The meeting was part of a two-day visit in which the South Dakota contingent toured many Berkeley Lab and UC Berkeley facilities. The group included several members of the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority, its board of directors, and staff members from South Dakota’s Congressional delegation: Senators Tim Johnson (D) and John Thune (R) and Representative Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D).

The contingent was hosted by Lab physicist and principal investigator of Homestake DUSEL Kevin Lesko, Nuclear Science Division Director James Symons, and Associate Lab Director Jim Siegrist. Also participating in the tour were senior Lab scientist Joe Wang of the Earth Sciences Division, and Homestake DUSEL project manager and Lab engineer Richard DiGennaro. In addition to meetings with Lab management and scientists, the group toured the Advanced Light Source, the National Center for Electron Microscopy, and the Molecular Foundry to learn more about scientific user facilities.

In July, 2007, the National Science Foundation (NSF) selected Homestake as the site for DUSEL after approving a proposal submitted by a multi-institutional collaboration of researchers through UC Berkeley. The NSF has given the go-ahead for the Homestake proposal team to develop a detailed, preliminary design for the facility, but several hurdles remain before the lab becomes a reality. The NSF Science Board, Congress, and the President must approve the DUSEL project, estimated at approximately $500 million.

The project got a boost in June with a $70 million gift from Denny Sanford, owner of the First Premier Bank and Premier Bankcard Inc., which will fund the development of an underground research facility named the Sanford Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory. Long-time Berkeley Lab physicist Jose Alonso, who also attended the Dec. 6 meeting, was named the Sanford Lab’s director in October, 2007.

The Sanford Lab, which is slated to go to the 4,850-foot below-ground level at the mine, will help establish the starting point for the NSF-funded efforts, which is planned to reach 8,000 feet below ground over the next several decades.

“The Sanford Lab is the key to keeping DUSEL alive in the U.S.,” said Lesko. “It provides a domestic and continuous venue for U.S.-funded underground research.”

At the Dec. 6 meeting, the group discussed the next steps in the development of DUSEL, such as what the construction project will include, when construction will begin, and the relationship between the Sanford Lab and DUSEL.

“We have a lot of work to do,” said Lesko. “In order for us to begin construction in fiscal year 2011, which is our goal, we need to detail the project’s costs, schedule, hazards, instrumentation requirements, and systems engineering by this time next year.”

There are other challenges too, both in securing funding and attracting state-of-the-art research. DUSEL must compete with other big-ticket science projects that are also vying for NSF funding. In addition, variables such as projections in a project’s operating costs and risk-adjusted construction costs can derail NSF funding. Because of these and other factors, only approximately 20 percent of “horizon” NSF projects progressed to eventual construction in last decade.

Fortunately, DUSEL’s conceptual design has successfully passed NSF review, which is a significant milestone toward securing funding. The conceptual design outlines the project’s functional requirements, top-down cost estimates, rule-of-thumb risk and schedule estimates, and first estimates of operating costs. It is the first step in a pre-construction planning process involving the science community and the NSF. The next stages are the development and NSF review of a preliminary design followed by a final design.

The project also enjoys widespread support from the science community. DUSEL planners have already garnered support from key members of the earth sciences and nuclear astrophysics fields, among others. Already, flagship programs have been defined in the study of dark matter, neutrinoless double beta decay, geomicrobiology, and long baseline neutrinos and nucleon decay. DUSEL planners are currently working with a wide range of scientists to define the facility’s initial suite of experiments.

“We have the good will of the U.S. underground science community,” said Lesko.

The need for the facility is driven by the fact that a number of scientific investigations require an underground environment. For example, there are questions important to the fields of astrophysics and physics that cannot be answered unless experiments are shielded from cosmic rays and other background radiation by thousands of feet of rock. Other fields that will benefit from an underground lab include environmental effluent studies, materials science, geoscience, and the study of biological organisms that inhabit extreme environments.

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