Friday, September 6, 2002

Mine lab status at critical juncture

By John Bahcall and Wick Haxton

In a recent public letter Patrick J. Garver, executive vice president and general counsel for Barrick Gold, discussed the slow progress in creating a National Underground Science Laboratory at Homestake (NUSL).

We support Mr. Garver's call for constructive dialog. Barrick/Homestake has a 40-year record of generous and enlightened support for science in the Homestake Mine. We believe that the current leadership of Barrick recognizes that the Homestake Mine is a national science treasure and that the development of NUSL-Homestake will bring great economic and academic benefits to South Dakota. We recognize that Barrick stockholders must be protected in any potential transfer of the mine, a goal that Barrick and South Dakota leaders are trying to reach.

However, Mr. Garver is apparently not well informed about the status of the NUSL-Homestake science proposal. We represent the national group of scientists who have proposed and advocated NUSL-Homestake over the past two years. The proposal has been endorsed by two National Science Foundation panels and by three high-level government advisory committees, representing broad segments of the science community. A final review is being carried out by a blue-ribbon committee of the National Academy of Sciences and will be completed early this fall. These coordinated and expedited efforts have cleared the way for NUSL-Homestake to be considered for 2004 funding.

The initial 2004 funding decisions will be made in the next few months.

Even though the science endorsements of NUSL-Homestake are extremely strong, the National Science Foundation cannot fund the development of a Homestake laboratory if the availability of the site is not guaranteed. This point was made in March 2001, by the very first committee to consider NUSL, a committee chaired by one of us. Without a site agreement now, the project can proceed no further. Thus, after nearly two years of discussion, it is time for Barrick and South Dakota to reach agreement. There is too much at risk to do otherwise.

John Bahcall, Richard Black professor of natural sciences, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, chaired the committee that first identified Homestake as the optimal site for NUSL. Bahcall was awarded the National Medal of Science in 1998 for work related to underground science.

Wick Haxton, professor of physics, University of Washington, directs the Department of Energy's National Institute for Nuclear Theory. He is the principal investigator for the NUSL-Homestake proposal.