Energy Secretary Steven Chu says that he's "very disappointed" with the National Science Foundation (NSF) for pulling out of a planned $875-million underground science lab in South Dakota.
In his most extensive public comments since NSF's oversight body decided in December to walk away from the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory (DUSEL) project, Chu told a congressional spending panel yesterday that the decision was especially hard to fathom "since [NSF] started it."
NSF officials "had to make their own decision," Chu said in comments to reporters after the hearing. "But historically, they were the ones who said an underground lab would be a good thing and asked us if we'd like to come along. And we said, 'Sure, there are lots of interesting things that one could do there.' So it's always disappointing when someone says come join me and then, several years later, says that they aren't doing it anymore, or they may not be doing it."
Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD) asked about DUSEL during a hearing by a Senate spending panel on DOE's 2012 budget request. Johnson has promoted the idea of converting Homestake, a former gold mine in his home state, into a multipurpose laboratory—as NSF officials had proposed as early as 2001—and asked Chu whether DOE planned to keep moving forward on the project. DOE has requested $15 million in its 2012 budget to keep the mine dry, while NSF's 2012 request says explicitly that the agency has "terminated" the project and redistributed $36 million to other activities within its physics program.