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Thursday, September 29, 2005


Homestake request is a contingency fund

The $20 million Gov. Rounds is requesting for the Homestake Goldmine won't be spent on developing an interim laboratory unless scientists actually show up looking for a place to conduct their experiments, the Governor explained yesterday.

We recap. When mining operations stopped at Homestake, scientists who need a deep underground facility for doing their work were almost unanimous in endorsing Homestake as a great place for a national laboratory. It can have labs as deep as 8,000 feet and is large enough to house many laboratory stations in one place, a situation that could be a tremendous savings in operating costs. Scientists were excited about the proposal to convert Homestake into a huge research lab because they saw opportunities to do experiments that they simply could not find the money to support as individual projects.

The support was enthusiastic until the mine's owner, Barrick Gold Corp., insisted that it would not turn over the mine to any other entity unless it was relieved of environmental liabilities that the mining operation may have caused. The corporation said that if anyone wanted the mine, Barrick would dictate the terms. When negotiations were stalled, Barrick turned off the pumps that keep the mine dry and it began filling up with water. At that point, nearly all the scientists who saw the mine as a unique opportunity to concentrate essential experiments in one place and to make huge advances in science realized that Barrick's corporate interests and attitude would obstruct any science.

Here is where the contingency fund to develop an interim laboratory has a questionable future. When the feasibility of the Homestake conversion looked doubtful, scientists threw their support behind sites that were not encumbered by corporate interests. So, a number of competing sites were proposed. Right now, some experiments that were envisioned for Homestake are in process at some of the alternative sites. The Soudan mine in Minnesota's Mesabi iron range houses some important experiments that are now in place and will never come to Homestake.

The National Science Foundation is still considering the establishment of a central national Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory. It has pared possible sites down to Homestake in South Dakota and the Henderson molybdenum mine about 50 miles west of Denver, Colorado. It supplied each of the sites with $500,000 to come up with development plans for a possible final selection.

The building of a single DUSEL is by no means a certainty. Many of the sites that were eliminated from the competition, such as the Soudan mine, are currently housing experiments and setting up financial and academic support structures for the work going on in them at this time. The dispersal of experiments throughout the nation may obviate the need for a central DUSEL. The kind of research that is done in an underground laboratory is an area in which America has an edge over work being done elsewhere in the world. However, that edge is not great and is growing smaller every day. America is not the leader in science and technology any longer, and the Homestake proposal seemed like an opportunity to make significant strides.

The National Science Foundation statement on the Homestake and Henderson choices details the kind of work that would be done in a DUSEL.

A DUSEL organization of scientists provides an overview of the science and related work that a DUSEL would support.

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