Kamioka Observatory, ICRR (Institute for Cosmic Ray Research), University of Tokyo

High-Energy Physics Experiments in Japan Weather the Crises

Staff Writer

During an earthquake, tsunami, or nuclear meltdown, the safest place to be is in a mine.

So says Stuart Freedman, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's spokesperson for the KamLAND neutrino experiment, whose 1879 glass photomultiplier tubes emerged from the earthquake unscathed. Both KamLAND and the Super-Kamiokande experiment, which contains 11,146 glass bulbs each 20 inches in diameter, are ensconced 3300 ft underground in the Mozumi mine. This is to protect both American-Japanese collaboration experiments from solar radiation that would obscure their data.

Although the KamLAND detector uses Japanese nuclear reactors as its neutrino source, Freedman says that the loss of the Fukushima reactor and ensuing radiation will affect the experiments little. The biggest problem for high-energy physics researchers is the continuing lack of power—and the safety of its collaborators at research institutions around the country. Freedman says that KamLAND researchers from universities on the west coast of Japan drove to Sendai to bring food and water to their colleagues at Tohoku University there, which is closed for the rest of the year.

Other particle physics experiments may not have been so lucky.

ILC Newsline reports that the KEK laboratory in Tsukuba suffered a fair amount of damage to structures and to some of its experiments. Researchers are continuing to assess the damage.

The 2-year old Japan Proton Accelerator Research Complex (J-PARC) in Tokai was built with tsunamis in mind. With construction that included defenses against waves up to 30 feet high, and earthquake-friendly building codes, it's seen little structural damage. Its particle accelerator shut down immediately following the quake, avoiding expensive damage to its magnets.

Posted in Asia, Physics Japan Quake 2011