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U.S. Sweetens the Deal for Japan on Collider : Science: Officials say Tokyo will be offered part ownership in return for backing the $8.2-billion project.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In perhaps a last-ditch attempt to attract critical Japanese funding, the Bush Administration is offering to make a reluctant Tokyo part owner of the $8.2-billion atom smasher to be built in Texas, officials said Friday.

“We will be inviting them to essentially buy an equity position” in the high-energy physics project, White House science adviser D. Allan Bromley said.

Such foreign share holding in a U.S. scientific facility would be unprecedented, but it may also be unavoidable if the massive research instrument is to be constructed at all. Without Japanese backing--as much as $2 billion worth--the project could well collapse because it is far from certain that an increasingly skeptical Congress is willing to sharply escalate funding for the superconducting super collider.

“This is a critical time” to conduct high-level negotiations with the Japanese--and to get an answer soon from Tokyo, Bromley said in an interview Friday.

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He is scheduled to go to Japan in mid-October on what many see as potentially a make-or-break mission for the controversial project. “The Japanese reaction to our discussions will be very important,” Bromley said.

Although Japanese support for the under-funded venture has long been considered indispensable, Tokyo has remained noncommittal despite numerous Washington overtures--including direct appeals by President Bush to Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu.

But shortly before their July meeting in Kennebunkport, Me., word was sent discreetly from Tokyo that, were Bush to press the prime minister on the funding issue, Kaifu was prepared to turn him down, according to several sources.

Previous U.S. proposals are said to be languishing in the Ministry of Education and the Science and Technology Agency. “They are thinking about how to handle the (super collider),” Yukihide Hayashi, science counselor at the Japanese Embassy in Washington, said this week.

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“We will not be able to respond quickly to the proposal to join (the super collider),” he added, noting that Japan also has serious budget problems and that numerous science and finance officials oppose any Japanese funding for the project.

The outcome of the discussions over Japan’s role in the super collider may well affect U.S.-Japan collaboration in future large science projects since such ventures increasingly are too costly for one nation to underwrite.

The super collider would be the world’s largest scientific instrument. And as the most powerful particle accelerator, it is intended to enable physicists to explore the fundamental properties of matter and energy, possibly uncovering clues about the origins of the universe.

Using thousands of magnets still being developed, the super collider would hurl beams of protons around a 54-mile oval tunnel at great speed, forcing them to collide. The resulting debris--subatomic particles that make up all matter--can then be studied and analyzed.

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While there are few immediate practical benefits, the project’s backers note that previous knowledge gained from exploring atoms and particles has formed the basis of many technologies now common in everyday life, such as televisions, computers and assorted medical diagnostic and therapeutic instruments.

After the super collider project got the go-ahead from President Ronald Reagan, it was sold to Congress as a venture that would receive a third of its funds from non-federal sources.

But since then, the project’s cost has nearly doubled--with one independent estimate putting the construction cost at $11.8 billion, a figure vigorously disputed by the project’s manager, the Department of Energy.

But even assuming the $8.2-billion price tag, and a $1-billion contribution promised from Texas, about $1.7 billion still needs to be obtained from other countries. So far, only India has made a firm commitment--$50 million. The European nations are not expected to contribute significantly since they have their own competing super collider in Switzerland.

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In recent years, as the super collider’s budget requests have grown, so has opposition to it. Congress this summer voted $483.7 million for the project for fiscal year 1992, which was $50 million less than the President’s requests.

Afterward, Sen. Malcolm Wallop (R-Wyo.), a leading super collider backer, warned that “it will be much more difficult to support this project next year if there are no firm foreign commitments.”

On Friday, Bromley said: “This is the appropriate time for us to be really talking to our Japanese colleagues . . . and to pick up the pace of these discussions.”

He said he expects to present Kaifu with a letter from Bush, though adding that Washington will not be presenting Tokyo with a deadline or ultimatum.

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The President also is scheduled to visit Japan in November.


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