Mid-East Accelerator Getting Close to Completion

By Michael Lucibella

Electron microscopic tomogram of dividing cells of the green sulfur bacterium Chlorobaculum tepidum, with chlorosomes rendered in simulated color
Courtesy of SESAME

Parts of the BESSY I 0.8 GeV booster synchrotron as they arrived from Germany to be assembled at the SESAME facility.

SESAME, the long-awaited particle accelerator being built in the Middle East, seems poised to enter its final stages of construction. At SESAME’s recent council meeting in Turkey, two countries have signed on to help fill its budget gap, and two more are expected to contribute. In addition, the organization reports that construction on the accelerator has been moving forward and, provided the necessary funding comes through, it is on track to start up in 2015.

The project’s name stands for Synchrotron-Light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East.
“I’d say the outcome was very good technical progress and encouraging news about funding, but nothing final,” said Sir Chris Llewellyn-Smith, of Oxford University, who is president of the SESAME Council.

UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) is overseeing SESAME to build a 2.5 GeV(gigaelectron volt) synchrotron light source in Jordan.  One GeV is equal to a billion electron volts.

When completed, SESAME will be the first such particle accelerator in the Middle East. The multinational coalition to build and run the facility is modeled after the governance of CERN and features nations that have historically been rivals, such as Israel and Iran, collaborating on the project. Much of the buildings, tunnels and radiation shielding has been completed, and the first parts of the accelerator have been installed. The accelerator itself is, in part, made up of Germany’s decommissioned BESSY1 light source.

“SESAME is on track, and the project is very close to reaching an agreement between five countries for $25 (million) of the $35 million needed for completing construction,” said Amy Flatten, APS Director of International Affairs, who attended the council meeting.

Until recently, the consortium had been facing a $35 million deficit in the budget needed to complete the project. However, during the council meeting, commitments from several nations came through, along with pledges from others that will make up the majority of the needed funds. Israel pledged that it would contribute $1 million per year for five years if four other members contributed funds as well.

“As of the beginning of this meeting, Israel has been joined by Jordan and Iran,” said Herman Winick, a research professor at SLAC National Acceleratory Laboratory and a member of the Executive Committee of the APS Forum on International Physics. He added that Turkey is close to securing its contributions passed by its parliament, and Egypt is also likely to contribute funding.  Although only four instead of five countries have made firm pledges, Winick said that “it is expected that Israel is going along with this.”

Funding from Turkey had been delayed after it was found that its membership had not been formally approved by the country’s parliament. A bill authorizing Turkey’s membership in SESAME has passed through relevant parliamentary committees and is awaiting approval from its General Assembly.

Egypt’s contributions have been on hold because of the recent government changeover. The new interim government has expressed interest in supporting the project, and while the SESAME Council was meeting, the country named a new science adviser who will spearhead the process.    

Palestine and Pakistan have also expressed interest in contributing funds and are currently working out their contributions.

The U.S. and the European Union have supported the project since its inception and will likely contribute the remaining $10 million in funding that member nations haven’t pledged. U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ), a physicist and APS member, has led the effort to urge U.S. State Department to contribute to SESAME.

Other advances and milestones were reported to have been reached.

The accelerator’s 22 MeV electron pre-injector has reached full energy and been fully shielded. Work to install the 800 MeV booster synchrotron – contributed from Germany – is under way, and plans for the outer storage ring have been finalized. After all funding is secured, the project can order magnets and beam lines.

If funding from Turkey and Egypt comes through by early next year, Winick said the project would be on track with its first four working beam lines by 2015.

“I think there is optimism,” Winick said, adding that despite many delays, the project looks close to being able to move toward the next stages of construction. “SESAME is still hanging in there. We have a site and a building courtesy of Jordan.”

To help prepare scientists in the region, APS has teamed with other national scientific societies to send Middle Eastern physicists to training opportunities around the world.

“APS had started a travel program to fund opportunities for scientists in the Middle East to attend training opportunities, users’ conferences, etc,” Flatten said. “The efforts of APS and the other national scientific societies were recognized by several speakers for initiating the program...We got a lot of expressions of goodwill.”

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