Japanese Physics Undergoes a Slow Recovery
By Michael Lucibella
The effects of March’s devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan have touched all aspects of society, including science. Research at labs near the earthquake epicenter has either been slowed or been halted altogether by damage to the labs themselves and by ongoing power shortages.
The J-PARC facility located in Tokai, about 250 miles away from the epicenter of the earthquake, is home to several research particle accelerators and beam lines. Although it abuts the shoreline, it suffered no damage from the tsunami because of seawalls designed to protect the facility from ocean swells up to eight meters high. The earthquake did damage some of the equipment; however it should all be reparable. Experiments at the lab have been suspended for the time being. At the Materials and Life Science Experimental Facility, five of the sixteen neutron beam lines have been knocked out of alignment and the lab’s linear accelerator will have to be realigned as a section in the middle sank about four centimeters.
“All accelerator elements and experimental elements have undergone only minor damage, due to the strong underpin reinforcements used in the major buildings,” said Shoji Nagamiya, director of J-PARC. “However, surrounding facilities such as power stations, electric power lines [and] water lines were severely damaged. Roads also suffered much damage.”
At the Photon Factory at KEK, located in Tsukuba, no one was injured at the site, but the facility and equipment sustained significant damage. KEK’s Linac was knocked out of alignment as much as ten centimeters in some places, its vacuum was breached and one of its focusing magnets fell. The buildings around the site have likewise shown signs of buckling and stress.
“We are still in the process of assessing the damages to the accelerators and apparatus,” said Youhei Morita, head of the public relations office at KEK. “There are many broken vacuum beam pipes, some fallen magnets, misplaced alignments of the beam lines, broken klystrons [and] fallen electronics racks.” Morita added also that though the experiments and buildings have been damaged, so far it looks like nothing is irreparable as they continue to assess the situation.
The medical accelerator at HIMAC in Chiba has limited operations because of power shortages. Research labs that have continued normal operations include the KamLAND and Super-Kamiokande neutrino detectors in the Gifu Prefecture, the Ring Cyclotron in Osaka, SPring-8 Synchrotron Radiation Facility and XFEL in Harima.
The main site of RIKEN is located just outside of Tokyo in Wako. A spokesperson for the institute said that the facility was largely unaffected by the earthquake, and research has been able to continue with only minimal disruption. The administrators of RIKEN invited scientists affected by the earthquake and tsunami to come to Wako and continue their research.
“We launched a program to provide support to doctoral students and researchers in the affected area who have not been able to attend university labs due to the disaster by inviting them to continue their research at RIKEN and offering experiment samples and materials,” said Yasuaki Yutani, director of RIKEN’s global relations office.
Other facilities around the world have pitched in to help Japanese scientists continue their research. The Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory said that it is setting aside 10% of its beam time for Japanese researchers to continue their work.
A full recovery for Japanese science will take some time. Early estimates at J-PARC are that the facility won’t be back up and running at its original capacity until December at least, provided that inspections don’t reveal additional critical damage to the equipment. Similar estimates at KEK put it on track to restart sometime in autumn. Inspections and repairs have been slowed because of power and supply shortages as the region continues to recover from the disaster.