Japan delays decision on whether to host a US$7-billion linear accelerator

Japan’s government has said that it is not ready to commit to hosting the world’s next major particle accelerator — the planned International Linear Collider (ILC). The decision appears to deal another blow to a project that has been more than a decade in the making, although some physicists are hopeful that the government might finally be making progress on the proposal.

“There was disappointment,” said Geoffrey Taylor, chair of the International Committee for Future Accelerators, at a press conference at the University of Tokyo on 7 March. The press conference followed a meeting with representatives of Japan’s science and technology ministry, who delivered a statement on the government’s position.

The particle-physics community conceived the ILC more than 15 years ago, as a follow-up to the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, Europe’s particle-physics lab near Geneva, Switzerland. The ILC would be a straight, 20-kilometre collider that would make detailed studies of the Higgs boson, the last puzzle piece in physicists’ standard model.

Japan has been the only country in the running to build the US$7-billion machine, after its physicists pitched to host the facility in 2012 following the discovery of the Higgs at CERN. As host, the nation would need to pay around half the construction costs, and other countries would contribute the rest. But despite years of discussions, the government hasn’t thrown its weight behind the project and has shown little formal interest in it.

The International Committee for Future Accelerators, which oversees work on the ILC, had asked Japan’s government to decide whether to host the facility by 7 March, so that the decision could feed into major discussions over the direction of particle physics in Europe, where researchers are itching to begin planning their next collider.

In 2017, physicists scaled back their ambitions for the ILC, in favour of a cheaper, lower-energy design. And in December, a report by members of the Science Council of Japan, which advises the government, said the council couldn’t yet support the plans, citing concerns over the collider’s value for money. More work is needed to convince the council of the ILC’s benefits, said Taylor.

But the longer the delay, the greater the competition the collider faces, said Tatsuya Nakada, a particle physicist who leads the panel in charge of the project’s design, at the press conference. The rival proposals are now competing for the same pots of cash.

Japan’s lack of commitment makes it harder for European physicists to consider the ILC in a major exercise designed to guide funding for the next six years. The exercise, called the European Strategy for Particle Physics, must make its recommendations by May 2020. If Japan doesn’t commit by then, the ILC risks being seen as a low priority, making it harder to get European funding.


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