On 30 September, the Science Council of Japan (SCJ) submitted the report on the study of the International Linear Collider to the Ministry for Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT). This was a response to the request by MEXT in May to the council to examine the ILC project including its scientific significance, the project’s position in particle physics and in the whole of science, the significance of the project being hosted in Japan and the possible challenges the project will face.
SCJ pointed out obvious issues with international projects, such as cost sharing, its governance model, and availability of leadership and personnel. Therefore, the report recommends the government to allocate the funds necessary to study risks and discuss with potential partners in the next two to three years. This is exactly what the chair of Linear Collider Board, Sachio Komamiya expected (see, e.g., presentation at EPS2013).
In the report, the council recommends the creation of a budget to make an extensive review on the ILC project The government quickly followed up. MEXT has requested about 50 million yen (about half a million US dollars) to study the ILC project as a line item in the fiscal 2014 budget. Even though the amount is small, it is symbolic that the Japanese government for the first time allocates a “preparatory budget” for ILC as an official project. Namely, ILC is moving forward in Japan as a result of the SCJ report.
The report also recommended that a council of advisers to study the ILC further should be established. On 2 October, Minister of MEXT, Hakubun Shimomura said in the general press conference that the government will create a working group of advisors with specialists from various fields as soon as possible. A task force exclusively set up to study the ILC at MEXT has been working since February, deepening the understanding of the project in the ministry. A new working group will be set up under the task force, which will review the possible issues on the realisation of the ILC in Japan.
The reason why the MEXT asked SCJ to write this report was the development of the ILC project. MEXT and the Japanese government so far have not officially stated their interest to host the ILC as a global project. However, the ministry saw that the technical design of the ILC was completed in June this year by the international collaboration, and that the preparations for the project in the Japanese high-energy physics community and activities by politics, industries, and local government who promote this facility are very active. Also, the anticipation from foreign countries for Japan to take initiative of the project is rising. Because of these factors, the ministry recognises the need to examine the ILC project.
The council concluded that the ILC project has profound scientific significance. Given the discovery of a Higgs boson at LHC, the scientific significance of a next generation linear collider for its precision study is very clear. SCJ recognised that the most technically advanced linear collider design at this moment is the ILC, and they also recognised that the technical design report for the ILC, published last June, was the fruit of the detailed and careful effort by the international team. In addition, SCJ recognised the significance of the physics cases of the ILC, such as the precise measurement of the Higgs boson or top quark, and the investigation for new physics beyond the Standard Model as a consequence. In addition, SCJ requested a clear explanation of the strategy for the search for new particles and new physics scenarios, taking into account the upgraded LHC programme, to justify the investment required for the project.
SCJ examined the possible issues and challenges if Japan should take the initiative on the ILC project. The council thinks that the ILC should be a project implemented by the international community with the scale and the cost required, and the rigid commitment from the prospective participating countries. The report stated that there were still some uncertainties in how the construction costs for the ILC should be shared among participating countries, the prospects for the participation of foreign scientists and the readiness of the implementation structure in Japan.
As the nation has been facing many issues, such as recovery from the earthquake, energy, natural resources and the environment, the ministry must prevent a situation in which spending on the ILC would adversely affect other priority items. The concern presented in this regard was how to balance the ILC and other national science projects. The report stated that it is not desirable for the country’s academic development if the expenditure for the ILC would adversely effect other projects’ progress, or eventually result in a reduction of research activity in general. To prevent such unfortunate situations, the council asked politics-government-academia to find imaginative ways to establish a system that will be supported by the citizens. Therefore, the council recommended a period of several years would be required for an extended review to allow Japan to make a decision.
Some media anticipated that the Japanese government would announce its intention to build the ILC, and viewed the SCJ report as a disappointment and a set back. This was never realistic. The best possible outcome at this stage is to get the government to take a more proactive role in assessing benefits and risks, and to engage in international discussions. The SCJ report indeed does recommend that the Japanese government should do so.
Tuesday’s announcement of the Nobel prize in physics, which went to François Englert and Peter Higgs “for the theoretical discovery of a mechanism that contributes to our understanding of the origin of mass of subatomic particles, and which recently was confirmed through the discovery of the predicted fundamental particle, by the ATLAS and CMS experiments at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider” will definitely boost the momentum of ILC activities in Japan. The ILC will study the particle they had proposed fifty years ago precisely so that we can understand its true nature and its connection to other big mysteries of the Universe.