After years of sometimes contentious deliberation, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has decided that, if it does build a proposed $500 million underground laboratory, it will construct it at the abandoned Homestake gold mine in Lead, South Dakota.
Today's announcement ends a long and winding search for a home for the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL). In 2001, researchers proposed that the NSF acquire the Homestake Mine, which was then on the verge being shut down (Science, 15 June 2001, p. 1979) and build the lab there. But negotiations bogged down when Barrick Gold Corporation, the Toronto, Canada, company that owned the mine, demanded that the government assume liability for safety, environmental, and other problems that might emerge later (Science, 15 February 2002, p. 1213). Meanwhile, researchers began promoting other sites, and in 2004, the NSF announced a competition for the lab site, which would house experiments in particle physics, geosciences, microbiology, and engineering.
That competition did not go smoothly. NSF's July 2005 selection from eight proposed sites to two finalists--Homestake and the Henderson Mine in Empire, Colorado (Science, 29 July 2005, p. 682)--was criticized by researchers from the University of Washington in Seattle who lost out in the bidding. So last year, NSF reopened the competition (Science, 21 July 2006, p. 285). Eventually, the Washington group submitted a proposal, as did a group from the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, which wanted to build DUSEL as the Soudan Mine in northern Minnesota.
Now, after another round of peer review, Homestake has won out again. Researchers agree that Homestake has much to offer. At 2400 meters underground, Homestake is by far the deepest of the possible sites. Moreover, South Dakota has invested $35 million in rehabilitating the mine--as well as assuming liability for the site. And a private donor, T. Denny Sanford, has contributed $70 million to the project. South Dakota plans to open the shallower, 1500-meter-deep parts of the mine as an interim lab as early as next year.
Even past critics of the selection are satisfied. "Our group felt that the NSF process this year was really thorough, so we support the decision they have made," says Wick Haxton, a physicist at the University of Washington, Seattle.
DUSEL is hardly a done deal. The Homestake team may get up to $5 million a year for 3 years to complete a conceptual design. But the project must still compete with several other large projects for NSF approval. Kevin Lesko, a physicist at the University of California, Berkeley, who leads the Homestake effort, says he hopes to get construction money for DUSEL appropriated in 2011.