Six States Lead SSC Contest

WASHINGTON—Several states began the race to acquire the Superconducting Supercollider (SSC) long before January 30, when the Reagan administration sounded the starting gun by announcing its support for the $4.4 billion project. That early jump may prove decisive. The August deadline for proposals gives an advantage to states that have spent plenty of money deciding where and how to build and operate the collider. Many of those decisions were made at least two years ago, and since then offi

By | March 9, 1987

WASHINGTON—Several states began the race to acquire the Superconducting Supercollider (SSC) long before January 30, when the Reagan administration sounded the starting gun by announcing its support for the $4.4 billion project. That early jump may prove decisive.

The August deadline for proposals gives an advantage to states that have spent plenty of money deciding where and how to build and operate the collider. Many of those decisions were made at least two years ago, and since then officials have mobilized governments, universities and private industry to carry out detailed and expensive site evaluations.

Dozens of states have expressed an interest in the project, and Energy Secretary John Herrington told Senate Energy Committee members two weeks ago that "there is no short list" of contenders. But there is consensus among high-energy physicists that six states—Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Ohio and Texas—come closest to meeting the essential features that the Department has described for the project. Another half-dozen states—Idaho, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Utah and Washington—are believed to have some, but not enough, of the "right stuff."

"Our business, ultimately, is to get the best deal for the government," said Alvin Trivelpiece, who next month will leave his position as assistant secretary for energy research to become executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His comments came at a February 10 news conference in which. Herrington spelled out the selection process the Department would follow (see accompanying story).

Next month the government will issue an invitation for proposals that will include revised guidelines for the site. Until then, states must rely on criteria in the 1985 "Siting Parameters Guide" written by the Central Design Group at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories.

The short deadline for proposals has angered many officials involved in the competition. "This gives a decided advantage to a bare handful of states, perhaps no more than three or four," said Patricia Poteat, deputy director of the North Carolina Board of Science and Technology.

What's Needed

According to the Central Design Group, the optimum site should be level, with uniform geological characteristics, and situated near existing communities and a major airport. The SSC will require up to 250 megawatts of electrical power and a maximum of 2,000 gallons per minute of water. To keep power demands to a minimum, the site should be located in an area with seasonal mean temperatures of 35 degrees Fahrenheit in winter and 80 degrees Fahrenheit in summer, and humidity between 25 and 70 percent.

All land for the SSC must be donated by the group proposing the site. States should have secured all the necessary land and easements by the time their proposals are submitted, or make assurances that they will be obtained at a later date. The eventual cost of building and running the SSC will depend on the construction methods used, the climate of the site, the availability of nearby construction materials and workers, and the energy costs in the proposed area.

The geology of a site and availability of land determine whether the collider ring will be constructed by using a "cut-and-cover" technique at the surface or by boring through rock at greater depths. The cut-and-cover method involves excavating a trench, filling it with precast concrete pipe sections, and then recovering the tunnel with the displaced soil. This method saves time and money over deeper tunnelling. The end product, still covered by earth, allows convenient installation of delicate lab equipment and more flexibility in future modifications to the lab setup.

However, working at the surface requires ownership of the entire 11,000-acre site (17 square miles), and is likely to have a greater impact on the environment. Consequently, sparsely populated areas and government-owned sites are best suited for this type of construction.

Tunneling allows the SSC to be situated much closer to major metropolitan centers, but it is more costly. Much less land must be donated for campus facilities, and the tunnel could be dug after obtaining easement rights from property owners.

In hard rocks such as dolomite, tunnel-boring machines produce self-supporting tunnels that do not require liners. Furthermore, adverse weather conditions would not hamper or delay underground operations. But access shafts are more expensive, and it takes much longer to install equipment through a deep shaft.

Leading the Pack

The sites profiled below appear now to have the best chance of landing the 3,000 construction jobs that will be generated by the facility, as well as benefiting from its estimated $270 million annual operating budget. All have sufficient water and electric power resources, and are serviced by railroads and major airports.
  • ARIZONA: Officials here have been actively investigating sites since the summer of 1983. A state appropriation of $500,000, including in-kind contributions, yielded two sites. The Sierrita site is located 45 miles southwest of Phoenix, near Kitt Peak Observatory, and the Maricopa site is situated 35 miles southwest of Tucson.

    The SSC ring can be built by a combination of tunnelling and cut-and-cover excavation at either site, with interaction halls located 50 feet or less below the surface. The state has the machinery on hand for cut-and-cover construction because it is being used in a large water diversion project.

    Arizona lacks the academic strength and research base of some of the other contenders. Plans to enlarge the physics departments at the University of Arizona and Arizona State University are expected to move ahead if the state lands the SSC. Collaborations with astrophysicists from Kitt Peak who wish to investigate the origins of the universe could also enhance the research base.

    The state's biggest concern is raising $2 million to complete its proposal. A minimum of $400,000 needed immediately may come from the state Department of Commerce. Additional funds are being sought from the private sector.

  • CALIFORNIA: The state has spent $1.5 million to identify a site just east of Stockton in northern California. It has made an additional $1 miliion available for the final proposal.

    Geologically, the site is a mixture of hard alluvium and sedimentary rock that would require two types of tunnel-boring machines and a lining.

    The collider would lie between 40 and 80 feet below the surface. All but two of the access shafts to the interaction halls would be constructed using the cut-and-cover method and extend down to about 45 feet. Although the state siting committee concluded that a surface rupture from an earthquake was extremely unlikely, the issue of potential damage from an earthquake is likely to persist if the site makes it into the final round.

    The state recently formed a governmental relations committee to promote its campaign, headed by former San Diego congressman and state senator Clair Burgener.

  • COLORADO: With $500,000 appropriated by the state legislature, Colorado has focused on a site 60 miles east of Denver in the area around Last Chance. The entire SSC ring would be constructed at a depth of 90 feet, using cut-and-cover in a soft rock known as Pierre shale. The state has already secured an additional $3 million to purchase land and easement rights if it is selected as the final site.

    Although the state may benefit from Republican Sen. William Armstrong's seat on the Finance Committee and Democrat Sen. Timothy Wirth's new positions on the Budget and Energy and Natural Resources committees, it lacks the wealth to offer the large financial incentives that Secretary Herrington said may be part of the proposed packages of some of the more populous and industrial states.

  • ILLINOIS: With $4.5 million already spent and $3.1 million requested in the state's upcoming budget, Illinois has waged by far the most expensive campaign. Locating the SSC on a site adjacent to and west of the Fermilab National Accelerator Laboratory takes advantage of the scientific expertise already in place. The Fermilab's existing Tevatron accelerator also could serve as a proton injector for the SSC, cutting $500 million off construction costs.

    Illinois envisions an unlined, self-supporting tunnel, 250 to 500 feet deep, in dolomite bedrock. This is the deepest tunnel being considered among the six states. The city of Chicago has already amassed a great deal of expertise tunnelling in dolomite and similar rock as part of a sanitation project. However, placing the SSC at such depths will make it more expensive to equip and maintain. And the coldest winter temperatures of any of the leading contenders would increase its operating costs.

    Some scientists have raised the question of whether Fermilab would be better off without the new collider. James Sanford, a physicist with the Central Design Group, said that "one would have to be very clear as to whether it's in the best interests of the country to disrupt" the lab's current research program.

  • OHIO: After a preliminary $100,000 study, Ohio has chosen a site just north of Columbus. Tunnelling through uniform limestone at depths between 100 and 200 feet would produce a self-supporting ring. The surrounding area contains a strong industrial base to provide the materials and a local work force for the project. The utility serving the SSC in Ohio would charge about $1 million less per year for electricity than would the Illinois utility company, in part because of milder temperatures. Temperatures in this region closely match those specified by the Design Group, with monthly means of 31 degrees in January and 75 degrees in July.

    The state has appropriated an additional $1.25 million for a proposal, but the Ohio SSC Task Force Committee needs $2.1 million for the proposal alone and an estimated $6 million to purchase land and easements. State legislators also must pass a law allowing the land acquired to be transferred to the federal government.

    Stephen Pinsky, a physicist at Ohio State University and cochairman of the state task force, said the biggest hurdle is the state's reputation as a declining industrial giant. "We have to make them realize that Ohio is an emerging high-technology state and that we will compete for every major project of this kind," he said.

  • TEXAS: In 1984 the state spent $400,000 on a preliminary study in which it identified six sites. There are rumors that other sites have since been added, but officials say no decision has been made on a preferred location. Outside observers say the indecision may harm the state's eventual proposal.

    Despite the current oil slump, Texas still has the resources to carry out extensive geological evaluations, purchase land, and meet the August deadline. The Texas Accelerator Center in The Woodlands outside Houston, which has been conducting research with federal support for several years, strengthens its case for the supercollider. Texas also enjoys the political clout of Democrat Sen. Lloyd Bentsen on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and Democrat Speaker of the House Jim Wright.

Best of the Rest

A winner could emerge from among a second group of states if they can overcome funding and time constraints. Utah and New York are preparing what many believe could be competitive proposals, but both states need to complete preliminary evaluations and narrow the list of possible sites before the August deadline.

New Mexico enjoys a good site east of Albuquerque but needs $850,000 from the state to conduct a preliminary proposal. Even if the money comes through, one New Mexico site committee member said his state would have a tough time making the deadline.

Washington chose a site near Spokane that lacks a strong nearby research university and has only limited domestic and international air service. Idaho has chosen a federally-owned site at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, but it also would need to beef up air service to the site.

North Carolina has two hurdles to clear: money and legislation. Under current state law, the state cannot acquire land by eminent domain and give it to the federal government. Even if the law is changed, the state must double its present appropriation of $750,000 to complete its proposal.

Lloyd is a freelance science writer in Vienna, Va.

The Schedule for Site Selection

WASHINGTON—Next month the Department of Energy will begin a process that Energy Secretary John Herrington has promised will be "fair, equitable to all parties, absolutely open and above board." Twenty-one months later, Herrington said, the world will know the administration's choice for the site of the Superconducting Supercollider.

The spring announcement will specify the parameters for the site, the requirements for land ownership, and the criteria for evaluation. It will call for all proposals to be submitted by August to a special departmental task force that will eliminate those that do not meet the qualification criteria. Some states are working with their congressional delegations to have that deadline extended to give them more time to develop proposals.

In September the remaining proposals will be forwarded to a 15-member Select Panel of the National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering. That panel will evaluate the proposals against the site criteria and in December will recommend an unranked list of the best sites to the Energy System Acquisition Advisory Board (ESAAB).

That board will gather additional geologic and environmental information from the states and will review all material submitted. In July 1988 the Secretary will designate a preferred site, after considering the panel's evaluation and any additional factors.

Beginning next month, the department will also review the environmental impact of building and operating the SSC, with special consideration given to radiation safety. Its report is expected to be completed by December 1988, and the site selection will be announced in January 1989.

This timetable, not coincidentally, allows the Reagan administration to dangle the site as a political prize in the November 1988 elections and still complete the process before it leaves office in January. However, any delay will hand the decision to the incoming President.

—Therese Lloyd

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