Laboratory under the mountain

Laboratory under the mountain

Major physics experiment in Italy may close soon

At the end of January, it became known about plans to close one of the world's largest neutrino projects - the Borexino experiment, which is going on in a laboratory under the Gran Sasso mountain range in Italy. It is possible that one of the reasons for the termination of the experiment is pressure from the authorities, eco-activists and local residents, who believe that the project poses a threat to the environment. N + 1 tells the story of the world's largest underground laboratory, the goals and results of the Borexino experiment, and understands the essence of environmental claims against the laboratory under the mountain.

“In the town of Teramo, closest to the laboratory, protests by environmentalists regularly take place, demanding the closure of the laboratory. Italian colleagues once saw a downright chased formulation of one of the slogans: “Niente neutrini ai nostri bambini” - “Our children don't need neutrinos,” says Oleg Smirnov. - In a way, they got their way. Now we are forbidden to use hazardous, from the point of view of ecologists, liquids and the work of a number of experiments, including Borexino, is greatly complicated or becomes impossible. "

Smirnov, an employee of the Laboratory of Nuclear Problems of the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research, has been participating in the Borexino neutrino experiment for almost 30 years - since 1991. This is one of the largest solar neutrino projects ever, and has proven to be incredibly fruitful. Thanks to him, physicists, for example, were able to find out exactly how thermonuclear reactions take place on the Sun, to confirm the mechanisms of neutrino oscillations (for which the Nobel Prize in physics was awarded in 2015).

However, the story of Borexino may soon end: according to Physics World, two months ago, in November 2018, a contract was signed between the National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN) and the construction company Ramboll, providing for the study of plans for dismantling giant detector. At the end of January, the government of the Abruzzo region, where Borexino is located, had to approve a decree according to which this dismantling should be completed by the end of 2019. So far, nothing has been announced about the fate of the resolution.

At the same time, Borexino project coordinator Marco Pallavicini said in an interview with N + 1 that the decision to close the experiment was not related to environmental protests. However, he confirmed that the study of plans to dismantle the Borexino has indeed begun, and this decision is welcomed by the local authorities, since the closure of the experiment removes the entire Gran Sasso National Laboratory (LNGS), where the experiments are taking place, from the sanctions associated with the European Seveso Directive. - a document aimed at preventing major man-made accidents.

Physicists hope the experiment will last until the end of 2020. This would give scientists the opportunity to observe solar neutrinos produced by the carbon-nitrogen cycle (or CNO cycle) - one of two types of thermonuclear reactions in stars, theoretically predicted and worked out by another Nobel laureate, Hans Bethe, but still not experimentally confirmed. For the Sun, this type of reaction is not dominant, but in slightly more massive stars (only one and a half times), energy is mainly generated in the carbon-nitrogen cycle. But if the installation stops working in 2019, there will be little chance of getting this data.

Let's try to tell this story from the very beginning.

Henning Back/Virginia Tech

Quiet place

In the 1960s, an economic boom began in Italy and, as a result, an active development of infrastructure (it was then, for example, that the Morandi Bridge that had recently collapsed in Genoa was built). Highways are a sore point in a country cut by the Apennines chain and sandwiched between two seas. Although the Apennines are far from the highest mountains on Earth, they are quite capable of complicating life and building roads.

The Gran Sasso Massif ("Big Stone") is the highest part of the Apennines in the center of the peninsula, at the latitude of Rome, its height at its highest point is 2,912 meters above sea level. Therefore, despite the southern latitudes, snow lies there in winter and ski resorts operate. But this is today, and until the middle of the 20th century, the Abruzzo region, where Gran Sasso is located, was one of the poorest in Italy: a significant part of its economy was sheep grazing, and asphalt roads could be counted on one hand. In addition, Gran Sasso cut Rome off the Adriatic coast.

Right - INFN Director Antonino Dzikiki

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