Superconducting Super Collider (SSC)
Ellis County, Texas
Articles, Summaries, Facts & Opinions
A Brief Overview
The Superconducting Super Collider (often abbreviated as SSC) was a ring particle accelerator which was planned to be built in the area around Waxahachie, Texas. It was planned to have a ring circumference of 87 km (54 mi) and an energy of 20 TeV per beam, potentially enough energy to create a Higgs boson, a particle predicted by the Standard Model, but not yet detected.
During the design and the first construction stage, a heated debate ensued about the high cost of the project (the last estimate was $8.25 billion). An especially recurrent argument was the contrast with NASA's contribution to the International Space Station, which was of similar amount. Critics of the project argued that the US could not afford both of them.
The project was eventually canceled by Congress in 1993 after 22.5km (14 mi) of tunnel were already dug and 2 billion dollars spent.
This appendix (appendix A of the HEPAP's Subpanel on Vision for the Future of High-Energy Physics, May 1994) is a chronology of activities and decisions that led to the creation of the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) project, and of its subsequent progress and accomplishments.
The interests of the high-energy physics community in a multi-TeV accelerator began to take shape in a series of International Committee on Future Accelerators (ICFA) workshops in 1978 and 1979, where a proton-proton collider with an energy of 20 TeV per beam was first discussed. The SSC project itself had its origins in the 1982 Snowmass Summer Study sponsored by the Division of Particles and Fields of the American Physical Society. Several other workshops, including two major ones at Cornell and Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (LBL) on accelerator and detector technologies respectively, then provided the basis for the recommendation by the High Energy Physics Advisory Panel (HEPAP) in 1983 for "immediate initiation of a multi- TeV high-luminosity proton-proton collider project with the goal of physics experiments at this facility at the earliest possible date." This large leap forward in the scale of accelerator technology was agreed to be necessary to elucidate the physics of electroweak symmetry breaking, and hence necessary for continued progress in high- energy physics.
As a result of the HEPAP report, formal research and development support for the SSC was initiated in fall 1983, and the Department of Energy and the directors of the U.S. high-energy physics laboratories chartered a series of preliminary studies for the SSC. Thus began the National Reference Designs Study, started in December 1983, to study the technical and economic feasibility of a machine with the designated parameters of 20 TeV per beam and a luminosity of 10^33^cm^-2sec^-1. By April 1984, these initial studies had been completed by a team of about 150 engineers and accelerator physicists. Three different reference designs were presented, based on three distinct types of superconducting magnets, all of which were deemed technically feasible. A preliminary cost estimate was produced for each of the designs.
The next step was the formation of the Central Design Group (CDG), based at LBL and managed by the Universities Research Association (URA) in summer 1984. This effort was directed by Professor Maury Tigner. In parallel, extensive work on prototype magnets was launched in several national laboratories--Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab), and LBL, as well as the Texas Accelerator Center (TAC), studying five different designs. This effort led to the selection of a magnet design based on a single cold bore with a high field of 6.5 Tesla in 1985. Additional work on site specifications and a detailed site-independent cost estimate, as well as engineering refinements of the magnet design, led to a complete conceptual design for the project. In total, a group of roughly 250 scientists and engineers participated in the CDG and contributed to the Conceptual Design Report published in 1986. The SSC machine described in this report embodied many technical challenges. A broad-based accelerator research and development program, encompassing high-field superconducting magnets, vacuum and thermal problems associated with synchrotron radiation, beam dynamics, and energy losses had been initiated in 1984 under the CDG, and would proceed over the following decade to address these challenges. Major challenges also existed for the experimental program, and a detector research and development program, administered by the Department of Energy with assistance of the CDG, was started in 1987 and continued through 1992.
After extensive Department of Energy review, a Presidential decision to proceed with the SSC was made in January 1987 and a site selection process was initiated. A total of 43 proposals were received, 35 of which met the necessary guidelines. After examination by a committee assembled under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences, seven proposals were selected for further Department of Energy review. The Ellis County, Texas site was announced as the preferred site by the Department of Energy in November 1988, leading to the creation of the SSC laboratory under the directorship of Professor Roy Schwitters, and the management of URA, in January 1989. A series of international advisory bodies were formed by the lab director, including the Scientific Policy Committee, the Program Advisory Committee, and the Machine Advisory Committee. The Texas National Research Laboratory Commission (TNRLC) was formed in 1987 to oversee the Texas interest in the SSC. Starting in 1990, it created a program to distribute, based on extensive peer review, approximately $100M over a period of ten years to universities in support of SSC-related research and development throughout the U.S.
One of the initial tasks of the laboratory was the creation of the site-specific conceptual design, completed in July 1990. As the site-specific design became more detailed, experience with the Hadron Elektron Ring Anlage (HERA) magnets, and simulations of the full 107 turns required for injection, led to a decision to change several aspects of the original design toward a more conservative one. Changes were proposed and agreed upon, including increasing the main ring dipole aperture from 40mm to 50mm to improve operating margins and field quality, and increasing the injection energy from 1 TeV to 2 TeV. Numerous technical experts agreed that these changes were essential for rapid commissioning and reliable operation of the accelerator. Detailed reviews of the energy and luminosity goals of the design were carried out by an Ad Hoc Committee and by a HEPAP subpanel. Both affirmed the design parameters of 20 TeV per beam and a luminosity of (10^33)(cm^-2)(sec^-1). The site- specific conceptual design, a basic construction plan, and a detailed cost estimate were then extensively reviewed by the Department of Energy Program Office as well as by the Department's Independent Cost Estimating staff, and the project cost and schedule baseline were established. As the site-specific design process was completed, the final footprint of the machine was delivered to the Department of Energy in December 1989, and in March 1990 the State of Texas began acquiring some 16,000 acres of land.
The necessary Environmental Impact Statement was completed by the end of 1990, and was issued following the Record of Decision. First major construction at the SSC site began in 1991 at the N15 site, home of the Magnet Development Lab (MDL), the Magnet Test Lab (MTL), and the Accelerator Systems String Test (ASST) facilities. These facilities, upon completion, represented fully-equipped work areas of 200,000 square feet, capable of producing 25 magnets per year (needed for the various specialized magnets for the accelerator) and testing ten dipole magnets simultaneously. The superconducting magnet program, with the goal of producing 50mm dipole magnets for the string test, was initially carried out by a collaboration among the existing laboratories (BNL, Fermilab, LBL). A total of 20 dipoles were produced, 13 at Fermilab and seven at BNL. These magnets were built in collaboration with staff from industrial partners: General Dynamics at Fermilab and Westinghouse at BNL. Six full-length prototype quadrupoles were built at LBL, and an additional five by the industrial partner Babcock and Wilcox. All of these magnets performed well, satisfying the required operating margins and field quality. A first major milestone, the string test, involved the operation of a string of five dipoles and a quadrupole, the basic half-cell of the accelerator, in the ASST facility. This was completed in August 1992. It was followed by a second phase test with a full-cell of ten dipoles and two quadrupoles. Meanwhile, the MDL was building further prototype magnets, innovative work on corrector magnet technology was being done, and design and prototyping work for the very challenging final focus magnets was going ahead.
Detailed design and early construction work was proceeding on all major machine components. "The conventional construction for the first stage of the injection complex, consisting of the ion source and a linear accelerator stationed in a 250-meter tunnel, was complete." The first circular accelerator in the chain, the Low Energy Booster (LEB), consisting of a 600-meter circumference ring filled with resistive magnets, was designed and 90% of the tunnel complete. The next element in the sequence, the Medium Energy Booster (MEB), consisting of a ring of 4.0 kilometers in circumference, again using resistive magnet technology, was designed and excavation of the tunnel had started. The third and final accelerator before entering the large collider rings, the High Energy Booster (HEB), consisting of 10.8 kilometer circumference tunnel filled with superconducting magnets, was under design. Finally, for the 87.1 kilometer circumference collider ring, the excavation of seventeen shafts was complete, and the tunnel boring, begun in January 1993, had proceeded rapidly, with 77,065 feet (roughly 23 kilometers) completed by fall 1993.
In parallel with the creation of the laboratory, the establishment of the experimental program for the SSC began with the call for Expressions of Interest in early 1990. The international experimental community responded by submitting a total of 21 Expressions of Interest for experiments covering a wide range of topics. The initial experimental program was to consist of two large, general-purpose detectors and several smaller, more specialized experiments. Letters of Intent for the large experiments were prepared by November 1990, and the task of defining the experimental program proceeded. By late 1991, two large collaborations, GEM (formed in June 1991) and SDC (formed in September 1989), had converged on complementary detector concepts. After review of their Letters of Intent, both were approved to proceed with more detailed conceptual designs and to write Technical Design Reports. This led to the submission of the SDC Technical Design Report in April 1992, and the GEM Technical Design Report in April 1993. The SDC detector received Phase 1 Department of Energy approval in October 1992, and GEM was in the process of undergoing similar review in fall 1993. In total, a community of roughly 2,000 scientists and engineers from more than 200 institutions world-wide were involved in these two detector projects. A broad-based program of research, development and engineering, addressing instrumentation issues relevant for the SSC experimental program, was carried out over many years, producing advances in all areas of high-energy physics instrumentation. This provided confidence that the very ambitious experiments planned for the SSC could succeed.
Beyond the physics mission of the SSC, there was a program of educational outreach to high school students and teachers, colleges, and universities. The substantial investment in research and development for experimental instrumentation helped the ailing university high-energy physics infrastructure, in addition to the large number of significant improvements in detector technology that resulted.
Progress on the project was the fruit of many years of dedicated work and investment by many. A substantial number of scientists and engineers had relocated to Texas in order to construct this new facility. A total laboratory staff of over 2,000 employees, including more than 250 foreign scientists and engineers from 38 countries, was assembled. The SSC experimental program, which had broad international participation from the beginning, had benefitted from the substantial investment in SSC detector research and development. Operation at luminosities of (10^33)(cm^-2)(sec^-1), which a decade before had seemed formidable, now was seen as entirely feasible for the major detectors detailed in the technical design reports, as well as for the collider itself. For both the accelerator and experimental systems, there were no technical show-stoppers when the project was terminated.
Everybody who worked to create the SSC can be proud of their very impressive technical achievements.
President Clinton, like Presidents Reagan and Bush before him, is an enthusiastic supporter of the Super Collider. Recently Vice President Gore met with a delegation of seven Nobel Prize winners and promised continued fervent backing for the SSC. The Department of Energy has reaffirmed that the SSC remains a high priority in the nation's science program.
Jobs and Defense Conversion
More than 45,000 contracts have been awarded in 48 states; most procurement awards have been made outside the state of Texas. DOE estimates 7000 jobs have been created by the SSC. Notably, the SSC provides jobs in areas where defense industries and bases have suffered. Defense-related firms receive more than one-fourth of the awards.
Math and Science Education
Each year, more than 23,000 students and teachers throughout the country participate in SSC education programs designed to improve math and science skills. In 1992, over 28% were minorities and over 50% were women.
Involvement of Women and Minorities
At least 10% of all federal SSC funds will go to small and disadvantaged business enterprises, including minority- and women-owned firms. 31% of the TNRLC expenditures went to certified Historically Underutilized Business (HUB) enterprises in 1992. $2 million has been awarded to historically Black and Hispanic colleges to expand the ethnic diversity of scientists and science teachers.
Research for Universities
The SSC is a nationwide amalgam of big and small science. Both of the major SSC experiments are led by non-Texans, and more than 100 university research groups across the country are involved in SSC experiments. Most are small groups consisting of just a few scientists, who will use the SSC for pioneering research opportunities not otherwise available.
Investment in the Future
We can anticipate that the long-term benefits of the SSC will far outweigh any immediate costs. We are already reaping the benefits of SSC research. Investment in basic research has historically provided innumerable spin-offs, and we can expect this trend to continue. Moreover, the SSC was only 0.6% of the FY 1992 Federal R&D budget, and has already suffered a $200 million cut in the 1994 budget. Why sacrifice funding of the SSC when its research represents a veritable trust fund for our children?
Accountability & Progress
The $8.3 billion budget includes $850 million of contingency funds. Approximately $2 billion has been spent, and the project is below budget. The SSC is now about 20% complete. Approximately 70% of the Collider tunnel is currently under contract and 11 miles have been bored; these contracts are below budget. All major milestones have been met on or before schedule. Notably, the crucial magnet test was finished successfully six weeks ahead of schedule.
Consequences of Postponement
If the Super Collider were postponed for 10-20 years, scientists would be forced to abandon the energy frontiers of science. A whole generation of students would be lost, and no physicists would be qualified to do the work. The entire infrastructure built up during the last 50 years would have been squandered.
Obtaining Foreign Contributions
The US has signed agreements with several countries (China, India, FSU) to contribute to the SSC. A 1993 GAO report states that, "The Japanese have not yet decided whether to contribute, largely because they are concerned about whether the administration and Congress will continue to support the project."
The US currently is the world leader of pioneering research in the basic sciences. The SSC is vital to maintaining this leadership role.
Medical Diagnostic Techniques
Accelerators and detector technologies developed for particle physics have seen widespread use in medical therapy, diagnostics, and instrumentation, including Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), Computerized Axial Tomography (CAT), and Positron Emission Tomography (PET). The most recent Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Georges Charpak, a CERN physicist, for the development of particle detectors. His detectors now have wide applications in some of the most advanced medical diagnostics; their improved accuracy and response allow faster scanning and reduced radiation doses. The SSC detector collaborations are advancing and refining such technologies.
Proton beam therapy has been used to treat more than 12,000 patients worldwide. At the SSC, the Southwestern Medical Center will operate a state-of-the-art proton therapy clinic for cancer treatment and research.
Superconducting Cable Technology
Before the advent of superconducting accelerators, the world's production of superconducting cable was only a few hundred pounds; as a result of accelerator R&D, present annual production is 200,000 pounds, and half is for commercial applications including MRI. The US Commerce Dept. estimates the worldwide market for superconducting products will reach $8 billion by the year 2000. Our investment in accelerator research made the US the leader in superconducting technology; our investment in the SSC will ensure continued leadership in the future.
The brilliant x-rays used to determine the structure of the AIDS virus came from electron synchrotrons that were first used in high-energy physics research. Ion-implantation accelerators are used to manufacture many of the semiconductor devices of modern electronics. Even the television screen and computer monitor are direct descendants of the very first particle accelerator, the cathode ray tube that was used to discover the electron.
Very Large Scale Integrated Circuits
Accelerators are becoming an important tool in the manufacture of advanced microchips. Intense beams generated by accelerators can imprint features less than one ten-thousandth of an inch across.
New High Tech Materials
A new plastic developed for the SSC by researchers at the University of Florida will be used in medical equipment. The new material can be sterilized in small accelerators without the use of environmentally hazardous chemicals.
Accelerator technology is used to measure long-lived isotopes. This provides important chronological information for application in environmental technology, e.g., waste disposal, ground water management, and studies of soil erosion and salinization.
In concert with industry, the SSC Laboratory is designing ultra fast parallel computing systems capable of processing the equivalent of 10,000 floppy disks of data every second. This cooperative effort is expected to facilitate the entry of high performance electronics into the commercial marketplace.
The ultimate benefits to society are not fully known at this time; however, from experience we know that there will be large payoffs. When the basic secrets of electricity and magnetism were discovered in the 19th century, the consequences -- electric lights, air conditioners, worldwide communications, and computers -- were unforeseeable. It does not take a leap of faith to conclude that discoveries with the SSC may produce even more profound changes and adaptations of the world around us in the future; rather it would be extraordinary if it did not.
The story goes that, following a demonstration of the new miracle of electricity in 1831; Faraday was asked, "What use is it?" He responded, "Sir, of what use is a newborn babe?"
I have been asked to distribute this SSC Fact Sheet. I believe it was prepared by F. Olness (SMU) and M. Barnett (LBL) (but if I am wrong about the credits, I beg forgiveness of the authors). The ASCII version was provided by Irwin Sheer and Russell Wylie. --Ben Grinstein
December 10, 1993
By Secy. of Energy Hazel O'Leary and U.S. Rep George E. Brown Jr.
The superconducting super collider as we know it is now dead, yet the quest for a comprehensive understanding of the world around us lives on. The scientific questions that compelled development of the SSC will not suddenly disappear, nor are they likely to be answered by anything other than a "big science" endeavor during the next century. For any such effort to succeed, however, this hypothetical future project--and perhaps all future big science projects--will need a level of international, political and public support that remained elusive for the super collider.
The SSC suffered for having failed from the outset to incorporate international funding and participation. The Reagan and Bush administrations made critical early decisions about the technical design and site location as if the SSC were purely a national project. Only later did they proclaim it to be an international collaboration--with a goal of nearly $2 billion in foreign funding. Is it any wonder that substantial foreign funding never materialized? This shortfall eroded congressional support, which made foreign involvement even less likely, accelerating the project's downward spiral.
The obvious lesson to be learned is that foreign participation must be incorporated into large-scale science and technology projects from the very beginning, when prospective partners still have a say in why, where, when and how such projects will be pursued. Not so obvious is how we as a nation will make and keep such international agreements in the future. Although the United States has determined that it cannot fund projects of this scale alone, neither have we demonstrated that we can undertake such endeavors with others. The abrupt termination of the super collider adds to a long list of large international projects that the United States has suddenly and unilaterally killed or drastically altered, including the Ulysses solar satellite program, the solvent-refined coal project and the space station. This embarrassing legacy raises serious questions about the reliability of the United States in international research projects.
Although Congress intensely criticized the super collider project for failing to receive substantial foreign funding, it was never clear that Congress was prepared to share with other nations the jobs and technological benefits that would have flowed from a true partnership. Is it realistic for the United States to want all the "good" jobs and all the critical technological components of a project like the SSC, while also insisting that other nations put billions of dollars on the table?
This raises a related concern: Political support for large projects appears to be directly proportional to the parochial benefits received, yet spreading the wealth of large scientific projects invites appropriate criticism of pork-barreling. When 25 states were competing for the SSC site, the level of political support was enormous. Elected officials nationwide--from senators to city supervisors--heralded the project as vital for the United States and also for their individual states. Once Texas was selected as the project site, however, this overwhelming interest vanished in a flash.
Such phenomena raise an extremely difficult issue for the future. Specifically, how can the nation stick with a decision that has scientific and technical merit before and after the potential economic benefits for individual regions of the country are determined? This issue is especially vexing for projects like the SSC, which require a long-term congressional commitment. It is further complicated both by the turnover of elected officials--which cripples institutional memory and commitments--and by the existing annual budget process, which encourages constant second-guessing of political decisions.
Finally, there is a lesson to be learned about public support for fundamental science. The super collider never captured broad support from the American public, in no small part because its scientific promise was difficult to understand even by those who are scientifically literate. As studies have shown, science education in the United States lags far behind that of other industrialized nations. This suggests that a key to sustaining U.S. excellence in basic research will be aggressive efforts to improve scientific and technical literacy at every level of education.
With the help of a blue-ribbon panel on the future of high-energy physics, we are now putting the pieces back together from a project that blew apart after an extraordinary investment of human and national resources. The superconducting super collider held the promise of taking humanity to the next level of understanding about the origins of the universe and the fundamental dynamics of matter. Unless we are intent on stopping the pursuit of the knowledge that it would have delivered, we must find a way to achieve a truly international framework for large scientific and technological projects.
This will be the enduring challenge as the cranes and bulldozers in Waxahachie, Texas, come to a halt, as we attempt to soften the landing for SSC employees and as we look for ways to continue the extraordinary journey of human inquiry that has brought us the scientific knowledge that underpins our society and fuels our economy.
by Kent Jeffreys
Kent Jeffreys is director of environmental studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.
Congress soon will be deciding the fate of the Superconducting Super Collider--the $11 billion Department of Energy atom smasher. After five years of skyrocketing cost estimates and increasing skepticism about the scientific merit of the SSC, there is now growing support on Capital Hill for pulling the plug on what would be one of the most expensive science projects ever undertaken by the federal government. The administration, however, has been lobbying furiously to spare the SSC from the budget knife and even proposes a 30 percent increase in the project's budget.
The SSC appears to be an ill-conceived project with weak economic justification but a tremendous amount of special interest support. With federal deficit spending rising to new heights, satisfying the curiosity of a small segment of the scientific community should not be considered a high national priority.
The U.S. Congress soon will be deciding the fate of the Superconducting Super Collider--the $11 billion Department of Energy atom smasher. After five years of skyrocketing cost estimates and increasing skepticism about the scientific merit of the SSC, there is now growing support on Capitol Hill for pulling the plug on what would be one of the most expensive science projects ever undertaken by the federal government. Unfortunately, the Bush administration does not share that view. The administration has been lobbying furiously to spare the SSC from the budget knife and even proposes a 30 percent increase in the project's budget.
If built, the SSC will be the world's largest and most powerful high-energy particle accelerator and could help to unlock the puzzle of the fundamental nature of matter. Government funding is said to be essential because the SSC would be used for "pure" research--trying to advance man's general scientific knowledge.
Whether or not it is in the financial interest of the U.S. taxpayer to fund the SSC has never been satisfactorily examined, even though $600 million has been, or soon will be, spent on its preliminary stages. The official cost estimate to build the SSC to completion is about $8.3 billion;(1) it would consume another estimated $350 million in annual operating expenses.(2) But many experts believe that those estimates are far too conservative and that the true price tag will be nearly $12 billion for construction and $500 million yearly for operations.(3) The private sector has shown virtually no interest in helping to fund the project.
There are a number of reasons for giving up on the SSC project.
1. Supporters of the project have never demonstrated that its scientific value outweighs that of other, competing scientific projects or the immense cost to taxpayers.
2. Cost estimates for the project continue to escalate far above the original price tag--thus casting considerable doubt on the accuracy of current revised projections. The history of wildly optimistic cost estimates for the SSC is beginning to resemble that of the Pentagon's B-1 bomber. Furthermore, promised international contributions to the project have never materialized, so even greater costs will be imposed on U.S. taxpayers.(4)
3. The commercial applications of the SSC technologies may well be minimal. In any event, the SSC itself will not contribute to the future international competitiveness of American industry.
4. Recent experience with federally sponsored projects has yielded disappointing payoffs for the taxpayer. From the eventually discarded Department of Energy Synthetic Fuels Corporation of the late 1970s to the bedeviled U.S. space program--with the Challenger explosion and the Hubble telescope debacle--the government's "big" projects have been multibillion-dollar disasters.
5. The SSC promises to do little more than provide permanent employment for hundreds of high-energy particle physicists and transfer wealth to Texas.
What Is the Superconducting Super Collider?
Essentially, the SSC is an "atom smasher." It would accelerate subatomic particles to incredibly high velocities and ram them together, rather like hitting one bullet with another. Its purpose is to enhance scientists' understanding of the building blocks of matter.
The SSC would be a huge, highly complex machine. It would consist of an oval, underground tunnel some 54 miles in circumference--or roughly the size of the Beltway surrounding Washington, D.C.--and approximately 12 feet in diameter. Two streams of protons would be accelerated around the loop in opposite directions. The particles within those two beams would reach almost the speed of light before being smashed together within huge detector chambers. There would be about 100 million separate collisions per second.(5) The energies generated by the intended subatomic particle collisions are to approach 40 trillion electron volts--more than 10 times the energy generated by any existing accelerator.(6) The particle collisions are expected to mimic the conditions that prevailed at the creation of the universe. Scientists hope to record the resulting smaller particles and bursts of energy and study them for clues to the fundamental structure of all matter.
Magnets play a vital role in the operation of the SSC. There are two basic types of magnets. Permanent magnets generate a constant magnetic field, and electromagnets generate a field only when an electric current is passed through them. If the electricity is shut off, the magnetic field dies. The strength of an electromagnetic field is proportional to the strength of the electric current. Although electromagnets can achieve more powerful magnetic fields, the resistance of the coils generates heat, so those magnets require cooling systems. A superconducting magnet can do the same job without producing any heat.(7)
A superconducting magnet, therefore, can be far more powerful than an ordinary electromagnet of the same size. The particle beams of the SSC would be guided through the 54-mile tunnel by over 8,600 superconducting dipole magnets and about 2,000 superconducting quadrupole magnets.(8) Each magnet would weigh about 12 tons and be approximately 50 feet in length. The magnets must be kept at a temperature no higher than 452 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (more than 268 degrees below zero Celsius) to remain superconducting.
More than 2,500 scientists and technicians are expected to run the SSC and participate in the experiments. The SSC would become the world's leading subatomic particle research center. Although several less powerful particle accelerators are in use around the world, the SSC is to be significantly more powerful than any existing facility and capable of producing more energetic collisions.(9) It is possible, however, that the SSC will have a useful lifespan only a few years longer than that of the tiny particles it will create.(10) Although proponents insist that the SSC will enable scientists to conduct unique research for decades, most of the research results will have no application to human needs, only to human knowledge.
One specific goal of the SSC is to confirm or refute the "standard model" of modern physics, the scientific theory that successfully predicted the existence of several subatomic particles that were later produced in research laboratories. Those particles are considered the fundamental "building blocks" of which all matter is composed. If the SSC succeeds in its mission, supporters say the project could yield substantial benefits from a technological point of view--for example, in the design of the next generation of computers. However, the SSC is intended only to confirm or refute abstract theories of physics; it will not be used to produce computers or consumer goods. Any research and development of useful products will occur independent of the SSC. In fact, uncertainty about any tangible technological benefits to be derived from the SSC is used as a justification for federal funding, since private firms would not make such huge investments in projects with such dubious future payoffs.
Practically the only commercially useful aspect of the SSC project is the possibility of improved superconducting- magnet technology. However, that marginal benefit could be produced at a fraction of the SSC budget and is well within the financial reach of private industry--should it perceive the need.
The Legislative History of the SSC
One of the original champions of the SSC was President Ronald Reagan. In 1987 Reagan announced that the United States was committed to the design and construction of the world's largest and most powerful scientific instrument-- soon to be called the Superconducting Super Collider. Proponents asserted that the SSC was necessary to maintain the United States as the world's preeminent scientific nation and suggested that it would result in domestic economic benefits in addition to international prestige. Opponents doubted the advertised benefits, the urgency of the scientific inquiry, and the justification for such an expensive project, especially in a time of budgetary crisis.
Before Reagan's announcement, from 1984 through 1986, the Department of Energy had spent $60 million on research on the SSC. Spending on the SSC project ballooned to $130 million in fiscal years 1988 and 1989 and then to $190 million in 1990.
President Bush continued Reagan's support for the SSC with steadily rising budget requests of $260 million in 1991, $530 million in 1992, and $650 million in 1993. The House of Representatives voted in May 1991 to cut $100 million from the administration's budget request.(11) But in July 1991 the Senate approved a $500 million appropriation for the SSC. Fiscal 1992 funding finally settled at $483 million. The administration's request for fiscal 1993 is $650 million. A House vote is expected in June 1992, and final passage is anticipated by September. If Congress gives the Department of Energy the green light on the SSC, budget projections indicate that spending will rise to $1.3 billion by fiscal year 1996.(12)
The Politics of the SSC
As with any major federal spending program, the competition among the states to play host to the SSC--and the billions of federal dollars the program would eventually generate--was fierce. Twenty-six states entered the sweepstakes in the late 1980s, and Texas was eventually declared the winner in 1988.
Initially, Congress strongly endorsed the SSC, as many members were eager to lure the huge federal project into their states. Influential scientific groups and government contractors rallied behind it. According to the Congressional Quarterly: "Support for the super collider was nearly unanimous in 1987 and 1988 before the Energy Department selected its location in Waxahachie, Texas. But now that construction is about to begin, it is increasingly seen as a costly project that largely benefits Texas."(13)
Not surprisingly, the large congressional delegation from Texas--including some of Congress's leading fiscal conservatives--is now championing the SSC and vigilantly guarding it from the budget-cutting knife.(14) Sen. Phil Gramm, a Republican, explains his support for projects such as the SSC by saying: "If we should vote next week on whether to produce cheese on the moon, I would oppose it. However, if the government institutes the policy, I would see that a Texas contractor builds this celestial cheese plant, that the milk comes from Texas cows, and that the earth distribution center is in Texas."(15)
Many corporations also stand to gain financially from the SSC program, and they are understandably optimistic about the project. General Dynamics' 1990 Shareholder Report praises the SSC as "a prime example of leveraging capabilities from a high-technology military project for use in another market sector."(16)
Similarly, in a letter to U.S. House Appropriations Committee chairman Jamie L. Whitten (D-Miss.), representatives of several interested corporations declared the SSC "another example of the partnership our companies have with the federal government on programs vital to our country's economic well-being, infrastructure, safety and quality of life."(17) The companies also warned that previous subcommittee action to reduce the Bush administration's SSC funding request by $100 million in 1992 would "cause the project completion date to slip by three months, increase the total project cost by an additional $100 million, and adversely impact magnet fabrication." Those implicit threats of cost overruns, and their casual acceptance by government agencies, are reminiscent of the expensive scandals that have plagued military procurement. The urgency of the corporations' plea that Congress approve SSC construction funding is understandable. They fear that mounting opposition to the SSC program may kill it in the next few years. Unless they can create a large number of financially dependent special interests in numerous congressional districts, the SSC may lose out to other competing demands for federal funding or be excised at the budget-cutting table.
The cozy relationship that has evolved among the Department of Energy bureaucrats, the states, and corporate clients is not unique to the SSC. Indeed, it is rampant throughout the process of setting federal budgets for science and technology. An example of that unholy alliance is the defense of the space program now being waged by NASA and its corporate clients. The story is almost always the same: Congress is told that it must fund a particular science project immediately or condemn America to second-rate status in a crucial area of technology. By the time the facts can be marshaled in opposition, the proponents of those programs have developed well-funded special interest lobbies that maintain pressure on Congress and the administration.
That process is now being repeated with the SSC. Rosy scenarios of both the technology and the eventual benefits are presented as indisputable facts. Good-faith challenges to the optimistic forecasts are characterized as short- sighted or the result of insufficient information. As Rep. Howard Wolpe (D-Mich.) recently complained, "The way [the SSC] is being presented to Congress, there appear to be only two stages: too soon to tell and too late to stop."(18)
The Growing Case against the SSC
The more details the scientific community, Congress, and the American public learn about the super collider, the less justified its $11 billion price tag appears to be. The many objections to the SSC, first raised when Congress launched the project in the 1980s, remain to be addressed satisfactorily. Together, these deficiencies make a powerful case against continuing funding.
Escalating Cost Estimates
Supporters of the SSC have consistently understated its cost. The earliest cost estimate for the SSC, which incorporated all design and construction costs, was presented in the Conceptual Design Report of 1986. The total project cost was estimated to range from $3.9 billion to $4.2 billion (in constant 1986 dollars). The "as-spent" estimate was approximately $5 billion.(19) In the first SSC budget request in 1988, the total project cost estimate was put at $5.3 billion as spent. The Congressional Budget Office then released a report that indicated that, judging from historical costs for other high-energy particle laboratories, the SSC costs might be understated by as much as 46 percent.(20)
The 1990 budget request for the SSC was based on a total project cost estimate of $5.9 billion (as spent).(21) The 10 percent increase was attributed to congressional failure to fully fund construction of the tunnel and support facilities. Before the 1991 budget request was presented, several design changes were accepted. Department of Energy secretary James D. Watkins testified that those changes would increase the total costs by between $1 billion and $2 billion.
By 1990 the SSC Laboratory was admitting that significant design changes were necessary to conform to the original, 1986, performance characteristics. In other words, the project, as originally sold to Congress and the administration, could not have performed as promised without expensive improvements. That was precisely what the critics of the SSC had claimed would happen. In January 1990 the SSC Laboratory estimated total project costs at $7.2 billion (as spent), which did not include many of the actual costs associated with providing the huge amount of electricity required to run the SSC.(22) When those costs were added, and expenditures from prior fiscal years were included, the as spent cost estimate exceeded $7.8 billion.
Several detailed investigations of the cost estimates had been conducted by June 1990. After reviewing them, the Department of Energy concluded that the most realistic estimate of total project baseline cost was $8.25 billion (as spent). In approximately one year the official cost estimate for the SSC had grown from $5.9 billion to over $8.2 billion, an increase of almost 40 percent.
But the runaway costs did not stop there. The Independent Cost Estimating staff of the Department of Energy developed a revised as-spent total project cost of over $9.3 billion.(23) In addition, the ICE staff felt that the peripheral expenditures--those that would never occur without the SSC--should be included in the total project cost estimates. Those costs would add approximately $2.5 billion, for a true "total" cost of about $11.8 billion.(24) The latter figure is the most important, since it reflects the total estimated increase in overall spending that would result from the SSC project.
The Charade of International Funding
A related problem is that promised international cooperation does not appear to be forthcoming, which means that the entire cost of the project will be borne by U.S. taxpayers. The proponents of the SSC have repeatedly assured Congress that the discoveries arising from the program will enlighten all mankind. They argue that many countries are eager to participate and contribute financially if only Congress will demonstrate "good faith" by funding the SSC more fully. Thus far, however, India is the only nation to pledge any sort of support for the SSC project--a total of $50 million--or about half of 1 percent of the project's total cost.(25)
SSC supporters originally anticipated $1.7 billion in foreign contributions. The European Community, which is planning its own super collider, was never a realistic source of funding for a U.S. project. Japan was expected to be a major contributor, but the Japanese government has resisted pressures by the U.S. government to become a major partner.(26)
There is domestic political opposition to foreign bids on construction of the SSC and participation in future experiments. As stated in a report on the SSC by the Congressional Research Service, "Some Members of Congress contend that the technologies involved in the SSC project, and those which may flow from it, should not be given away to other nations, but should benefit the United States."(27) There is little reason to suspect that as Congress pumps billions of additional U.S. taxpayer dollars into the SSC it will want to make the project a multinational effort.
Overstated Technological Benefits
Proponents typically claim that federally funded research of this type pays for itself by advancing general scientific knowledge, which makes possible the introduction of new technologies and, eventually, new innovative products. The argument continues that society in general profits from the new technology, which makes such projects appropriate recipients of government funding.
Since World War II that logic has been used to justify federal intervention in nearly every area of scientific research in America. The trend of federal funding of science accelerated in the 1960s in response to the Soviet Union's launch of Sputnik. From 1950 through 1990 the federal budget for science and technology jumped from $600 million to $16 billion. Increasingly, the technological spin-off argument has been used to buttress the national security rationale for the dominant federal role in scientific research. But the spin-off argument--that military- related research and development produce significant incidental advances in civilian technology(28)--has been refuted. For example, a 1974 study by the National Academy of Engineering concludes, "With a few exceptions the vast technology developed by federally funded programs since World War II has not resulted in widespread 'spin-offs' or secondary or additional applications of practical products, processes and services that have made an impact on the nation's economic growth, industrial productivity, employment gains, and foreign trade."(29)
In the case of the SSC, political support for the project is, to a large degree, premised on potential spin-offs, especially those related to superconducting magnets.(30) Without federal funding, supporters argue, those spin-offs would never be developed, because the benefits of a greater understanding of the fundamental forces of nature are diffuse and difficult to capture. Thus, profit-oriented private industries are reluctant to finance such projects. Generally, pure knowledge is not protected as intellectual property and therefore may be used by anyone without paying the discoverer. Spending private billions to build the SSC would not be beneficial to the shareholders of the funding corporation even if it could produce spin-off products since any other firm would be free to produce similar products without first paying for a share of the research. Consequently, advocates of the SSC maintain that the government needs to fund that type of pure research so that U.S. businesses can exploit spin-off technologies. That would supposedly boost U.S. international competitiveness.
There are several flaws in that analysis of the SSC. A major one is that many experts contend that the value of any commercial derivatives from the SSC will be negligible. Furthermore, it is not enough for SSC supporters to show that there would be some commercially valuable new technologies developed from the SSC. For the SSC to be a good value for taxpayers, the total spin-off benefits (if they exist) from the $11 billion federal investment must outweigh the benefits from an equivalent private-sector investment in product improvement and research. Applied science is precompanies excel and that has made America an economic success. Applied science and engineering, while less glamorous than huge pure-science projects, actually put food on the table, medicine in the pharmacy, and computers in the workplace.
The high-energy particle physics community has overreached before. The most infamous example was the ill-fated Isabel project slated for the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island. Intended to detect certain predicted particles, in particular the Z-zero subatomic particle, Isabel ran over budget and well behind schedule because of serious technical obstacles. A team at the European Center for Nuclear Research detected the particles before Isabel was more than a hole in the ground. The Isabel project was eventually canceled.
Nevertheless, SSC proponents still claim that super- collider research, especially magnetic resonance imaging, an important diagnostic tool, has already benefited medical science. However, Harvard's Nicholaas Bloembergen, president of the American Physical Society, Nobel Prize winner, and pioneer in magnetic resonance technology, refuted those claims by stating that "these are spin-offs of small-scale science and not of the SSC."(31)
Dubious Benefits to Science Education
A Science Education Advisory Committee was recently formed to develop justifications for the SSC "as a catalyst for improved science and mathematics instruction in American schools."(32) The purpose of that group, which was formed after the SSC project was begun, appears to be to justify the spending after the fact and seize control of a portion of the funding. It should be clear that if improving the quality of science education were an important goal, the money should go directly to that purpose. The indirect catalyst approach will benefit only a handful of universities and elite students. According to Rep. Jim Slattery (D- Kans.), "SSC funding will concentrate research dollars in an area that accounts for less than one percent of all science education."(33) It makes little sense to try to improve basic science education in America by heavily subsidizing such a specialized group of scientists.
The Texas National Research Laboratory Commission has established a Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Program "designed to maximize participation of minority and woman- owned firms" in the SSC project.(34) In addition, a program for Historically Black Colleges and Universities was created "so that African-American SSC staff members can travel to historically Black colleges and universities across the U.S."(35) There is even a program for integrating SSC technology into the Texas community college curriculum. The unmistakable objective of those "educational" programs is to distribute federal dollars widely and thereby create political constituencies. Those programs show the SSC to more closely resemble a public works project receiving federal dollars than a high-priority science project essential to America's technological capability.
The proliferation of SSC-based educational claims even extends to elementary schools. A new "Adopt a Magnet" module, developed for students from kindergarten through fifth grade, is promoted as a benefit, not merely to science education, "but other curriculum areas as well including language arts, music, art, theater arts, math, social studies, and physical education."(36)
Despite its supporters' claims to the contrary, the SSC will rely on several untested technologies that are proving to be extremely expensive and riddled with problems. Some of the obstacles that the SSC has run into were predicted by its opponents. The gigantic atom-smashing machine will not be built with off-the-shelf technologies because neither the individual pieces nor any comparable systems have been built before.
The SSC has been designed to the scientifically optimum limits of a circular collider configuration. The size of the loop around which the atoms will circle was changed when researchers determined that there was a slightly different optimum size than originally assumed. There is even new evidence suggesting that a circular configuration may not be necessary for exploring high-energy particle collisions. Improved linear designs, which are potentially much less expensive than the SSC, may be technologically feasible in only a few years. Far less expensive linear design electron-positron accelerators soon may be able to compete with the SSC design as a scientific tool.(37)
In addition, only 11 prototypes of the more than 8,600 dipole magnets and only 1 prototype of the 2,000 quadrupole magnets have been built and tested. In fact, even if the prototypes are successful, most of the magnets will not be tested until after they are installed in the underground tunnel. The recent experience with the out-of-focus Hubble space telescope should provide a lesson on the desirability of pretesting complex equipment.
In addition, the subatomic particle collisions must be detected by complex devices and interpreted by powerful computers if the experiments are to yield any information whatsoever--yet the budget for that vital feature of the project has not been approved. The Department of Energy's estimated budget for the SSC includes no more than $640 million for design and construction of the massive detectors.(38) The people working on the designs "have been instructed to plan on a budget of no more than $500 million each, only half of which will come from the U.S. government."(39) So far, only one design has been accepted (but not built) by the SSC project managers, although the SSC plan requires two separate detector designs. The accepted design was to have been peer reviewed in April 1992. The estimated cost of the first detector alone is $712 million.
Even bigger roadblocks have impeded the development of the SSC's second detector. Selection of a designer of the detectors necessary to measure and record the experimental results has been slow and painful. The L-Star detector project proposal, developed by an international consortium of European, Soviet, and American institutions (90 institutions in 13 countries) has been rejected by the SSC management team. In January 1991 the SSC management team rejected a second design known as EMPACT/TEXAS. A June 1991 workshop was organized to investigate design options and create a new consortium. Currently, the gamma-electron-moon detector proposal is scheduled for review in November 1992.
The detector design problems demonstrate that the SSC is much further from reality than its proponents claim. In addition, the decision to develop only two detectors was based on cost, not scientific, considerations. Regardless of funding levels, the lack of appropriate detection devices and workable computer software could limit the SSC's scientific usefulness and greatly delay the scheduling of experiments.
The stated purpose of the proposed Superconducting Super Collider is to expand man's knowledge of the fundamental forces of nature: to peer back in time to the origin of matter immediately after the theorized "Big Bang" that created the universe. But even before the SSC has been built, it has provided an object lesson in the fundamental forces of politics that shape governmental scientific endeavors.
Monument building has been a political trait since ancient times. However, in a democratic republic, funding an edifice the size of the SSC requires a solid political consensus. Not unlike the biblical Tower of Babel, which was designed to reach into heaven itself, the SSC is intended to reach into the heart of matter. Unfortunately, the SSC is rapidly becoming the Tunnel of Babel, a monument that will benefit only a near-priesthood of scientists.
Despite persistent claims by the Bush administration that "the SSC will provide valuable scientific data into the 21st century,"(40) the SSC appears to be another ill-conceived science project with weak economic justifications but a tremendous amount of special interest support. Until this year expenditures were small, at least by Washington standards. But with the SSC's costs mounting, congressional support is showing signs of waning. The SSC is smashing the federal budget long before it can smash any atoms.
With federal deficit spending rising to new heights, satisfying the curiosity of a small segment of the scientific community should not be considered a high national priority. As Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Ark.) has said of the SSC: "It would be nice to know the origin of matter. It would even be nicer to have a balanced budget."(41)
(2) Faye Flam, "The SSC: Radical Therapy for Physics," Science 254 (October 11, 1991): 194.
(3) U.S. Department of Energy, p. 27.
(4) Frederick Shaw Myers, "SSC: The Japan That Can Say No," Science 253 (December 13, 1991): p. 1579.
(5) Luminosity, or the rate of scientifically useful collisions, is anticipated to be 1033 per square centimeter per second.
(6) However, planned accelerators in Europe and Russia would close the gap substantially.
(7) Report of the National Commission on Superconductivity (Washington: NCS, August 7, 1990): p. v.
(8) The dipole magnets would be used to direct and bend the particles; the quadrupole magnets would be used to focus the beams.
(9) Fermilab at Batavia, Illinois; the European Center for Nuclear Research in Switzerland; and the Stanford linear accelerator, for example.
(10) The SSC may outlive its subatomic creations by less than 20 years.
(11) The Energy Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee also cut $43 million from the request for a new particle injector at Fermilab, but the full House voted to shift $10 million from the Department of Energy's high- energy physics budget to the Fermilab Tevatron main injector project. Fermilab, a smaller scale rival of the SSC, is currently one of the top three U.S. particle physics laboratories.
(12) U.S. Department of Energy, Table 9, p. 62.
(13) Alissa J. Rubin and Holly Idelson, "Super Collider Gets Green Light As Energy, Water Bill Passes," Congressional Quarterly, June 1, 1991, p. 1440.
(14) To secure the winning bid for the SSC, the taxpayers of the State of Texas have been committed by their elected officials to put up at least $1 billion to support the project. According to the Texas National Research Laboratory Commission, Texas committed $700 million to pay for site improvements, $100 million to subsidize research efforts, and $175 million to subsidize the cost of electricity for the SSC. Texas politicians simply recognized that $1 billion is the minimum political ante in Washington these days.
(15) Adam Meyerson, "The Genius of Ordinary People," Inter view with Sen. Phil Gramm, Heritage Foundation Policy Review 50 (Fall 1989): 11-12.
(16) General Dynamics 1990 Shareholder Report, p. 27.
(17) Signing the letter dated May 21, 1991, were R. H. Oeler, vice president of Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.; R. E. Tetrault, vice president of Babcock & Wilcox; Michael W. Wynne, corporate vice president and general manager of General Dynamics Space Systems Division; Carl H. Rosner, president of Intermagnetics General Corp.; Richard F. Harig, Sr., vice president of Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas, Inc.; and Vincent J. Buonanno, president of Tempel Steel Co.
(19) U.S. Department of Energy, p. 7.
(20) Congressional Budget Office, "Risks and Benefits of Building the Superconducting Super Collider: A Special Study by the Congressional Budget Office," October 1988.
(21) Ibid., p. 11.
(22) U.S. Department of Energy, p. 14.
(23) The Independent Cost Estimating staff often draws on outside expertise. Its study was submitted directly to Deputy Energy Secretary Henson Moore. The results are re ported in U.S. Department of Energy, p. 17.
(24) Ibid., p. 27.
(25) See Mark Crawford, "SSC's Forlorn Quest for Foreign Partners," Science 252 (April 5, 1991): 25.
(26) Myers, p. 1579. See also Jacob M. Schlesinger, "Bush Seeks Supercollider Donation from a Japan Short of Funds for Its Own Basic-Science Projects," Wall Street Journal, January 3, 1992, p. A-8.
(28) See Lloyd J. Dumas, "Taxes and Militarism," Cato Journal 1, no. 1 (Spring 1981): 277-92.
(29) National Academy of Engineering, Committee on Technology Transfer and Utilization, "Technology Transfer and Utilization: Recommendations for Reducing the Emphasis and Correcting the Imbalance," Washington, 1974, p. i.
(30) Another claimed benefit of the SSC is the potential improvement in tunnel-building techniques, since the oval ring will be 54 miles long and at least 50 feet deep. Private-sector tunnel building is not what it used to be, but it is still unclear why the federal government should spend billions of dollars to improve technologies in that field. Most major tunnel projects are for government infrastructure, such as mass transit and water supply systems. Almost all of those government projects are big money losers for reasons that have nothing to do with tunnel-building technology.
(31) Quoted in C. David Chaffee, "Can Big Science Claim Credit for MRI?" Science 253 (September 13, 1991): 1204.
(32) Texas National Research Laboratory Commission, Office of Public Affairs, De Soto, Texas, News Release, May 1, 1991.
(33) Jim Slattery, "The Superconducting Supercollider," Roll Call, Space Policy Briefing, May 20, 1991, p. 20.
(34) Quoted from the Texas National Research Laboratory Com mission Chamber of Commerce Information Package.
(36) From "Adopt a Magnet Program," SSC Laboratory, Dallas, Tex.
(37) Boesman, p. CRS-8.
(38) U.S. Department of Energy, p. 59.
(39) David P. Hamilton, "Ad Hoc Team Revives SSC Competition," Science 252 (June 21, 1991): 1610.
(40) Henson Moore, "Why It's Worth Paying $8.25 Billion for Super Collider," Roll Call, May 27, 1991, p. 5. Considering that the SSC is not scheduled to begin operating until 1999, this is a task even the SSC may be able to accomplish.
(41) Alissa J. Rubin and Holly Idelson, "Senators Come Out in Favor of Funding Super Collider," Congressional Quarterly, July 13, 1991, p. 1893.
© 1992 The Cato Institute
Article from texnews.com
Saturday, May 16, 1998
AUSTIN (AP) -- A major part of the old Superconducting Super Collider project in Ellis County has been sold for $10 million.
The Texas General Land Office said Friday that the 555,097-square foot central laboratory facility, which sits on 45.85 acres of land near Waxahachie south of Dallas, was sold to GVA Texas Waxahachie Ltd. The firm is controlled by Wichita, Kan., investor George Ablah.
The state agency earlier sold another building, the linear accelerator facility, for $400,000 to International Isotopes Inc., a Denton company.
The sale brings to $14.7 million the total amount the General Land Office has received so far for property purchased for the now-defunct collider project.
The project's original mission was to fire subatomic particles through an underground accelerator tunnel to study the collision remnants in an effort to determine the basic building blocks of the universe.
But Congress in 1993 killed the $10 billion project. The U.S. Department of Energy, which was in charge of the Superconducting Super Collider, then turned over two buildings and about 10,000 acres to the state for disposal.
The General Land Office said about 2,800 acres of land also have been sold, with another sealed-bid sale scheduled for June 16. In addition, the agency said 1,300 acres will be available to former land owners under a special program approved by lawmakers.
By the end of this summer, the agency said it expects to have sold all but 4,500 acres of the project's remaining property.
"We are right on schedule with the disposal of the SSC property," said Land Commissioner Garry Mauro, who's also the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
Proceeds from the sale will be used to retire state revenue bonds that were approved by the Legislature to help finance the state's part in the facility's development, primarily buying land.