U.S. officials Thursday asked that Japan pay for part of an $8-billion particle accelerator that scientists hope to use to probe the structure of atoms and formation of the universe.
"The size and the expense of building this project is such that no one country can do it alone," Deputy Secretary of Energy Henson Moore said. "And we believe that for it to be a scientific success, it must be an international project."
Backers say the race track-shaped supercollider, which would encircle Waxahachie, Tex., with a 54-mile tunnel, would be the world's most powerful particle accelerator and its largest scientific instrument.
The Department of Energy says its 12,000 superconducting magnets will produce a magnetic field 150,000 times as strong as Earth's and send streams of protons smashing against each other at nearly the speed of light to break them into subatomic particles.
Scientists then would study the tiny pieces of matter produced in hopes of finding previously unobservable particles that would provide clues to how the universe began.
Scientists say such intensely powerful collisions will approximate the "big bang" explosion believed to have created the cosmos.
A U.S. delegation, led by Moore, made the funding request at meetings with Education Minister Kosuke Hori, Tomoji Oshima, director general of the Science and Technology Agency, and Ichiji Ishii, deputy foreign minister.
Moore did not specify the amount the U.S. government wants Japan to provide, but the U.S. government has said it will ask Japan to allocate $1 billion for the project, according to the Kyodo News Service.
Last month, the House of Representatives in Washington authorized $5 billion in spending over several years on the supercollider, and Texas agreed to provide about $1 billion to help lure the project to its state.
The government hopes the remaining $2 billion will come largely from foreign sources, Department of Energy officials said.
Moore told reporters his delegation of Administration officials will present a letter from President Bush to Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu inviting Japan to become a partner in the project.
Some U.S. Congress members have demanded that Japan bear a large portion of the cost because of its trade imbalance with the United States, but others have warned that foreign involvement would result in a giveaway of U.S. technology.
Moore said the United States wants Japan as a partner because of its ability to contribute both scientifically and financially.
Moore said Japan also has shown "an understanding of the need to spend more on basic research."
Japan spends less of its gross national product than the United States on basic scientific research, but more on applied research. It frequently has taken the discoveries of basic research conducted elsewhere and developed them into new consumer products.
Department of Energy officials said that up to half the accelerator's magnets could be provided by Japan, which already has developed a prototype of a train levitated by superconducting magnets.
After a week in Japan, the delegation is to visit South Korea to seek its participation in the project. The only country that has officially agreed to participate is India, which pledged $50 million.