CERN - an underground triumph - TunnelTalk
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Underground triumph at CERN Sep 2008
Shani Wallis, Editor

While scientists celebrate the dawn of a new era in the search of the beginning of everything(1), media coverage of CERN's new super collider inauguration overlooks the tremendous contribution from the tunnelling industry to the achievement.

The new Large Hadron Collider (LHC) machine is the culmination of a 20 year effort and a $US 3.8 billion investment, with excavation of vast new machine halls on the existing 27km (17-mile) accelerator ring made all the more impressive in that they are carved from the most unsuitable of geological formations.

News of CERN's success recalls demise of the Superconducting Super Collider (SSC) project in Waxahachie, Texas in the United State(2). The SSC would have been three times bigger had it not been cancelled by Congress in 1993. Support was pulled after a US$2 billion investment and excavation of some 14 miles of tunnelling - not because of technical tunneling problems, but because of a need to cut the US federal budget and serious cost underestimation of the electromagnets needed for the 54-mile (65km) accelerator.

The new CERN facility also calls to mind other underground nuclear physics research facilities, including the HERA machine in Hamburg, Germany, which advanced slurry Hydroshield tunnelling state-of-the-art(3); the new Fermilab facilities in Illinois(4); and more recently the SLAC Linac Coherent Light Source instrument at Stanford University in Northern California(5). The underground excavations for these projects are equally impressive. In planning the next generation of research instruments, the scientific community is already requesting of the geolotechical and tunnelling community more extreme limits of what can be achieved(6).

1. Great Excavations; Shani Wallis, Civil Engineering√ĎASCE, Vol. 71, No 8, August 2001, p34-41
1. CERN excavations; Shani Wallis, World Tunnelling, November 2001_
2. Europe's particle collider is Texas' lost opportunity; The Dallas Morning News, Thursday, September 11, 2008;
3. Nuclear physicists ride the HERA circuit; Shani Wallis, Tunnels & Tunnelling International, January 1986, p26_
4. Physics frontier; T&T North America site visit report, November 2001, p12_5. Excavating a window to the future; T&T North America site visit report, May 2007, p19_
5. NATM tunnels at Stanford Linear Accelerator Center; P.J. Doig, NAT 2008 conference proceedings, p264_
6. Rock engineering and design of large-span caverns at depth for deep underground science laboratories; C. Laughton, RETC 2007 conference proceedings, p694


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