OAK RIDGE, TN (AP) More than $1 billion has been spent so far on one of the nation’s most expensive science projects, and officials say the Spallation Neutron Source accelerator is nearing completion.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory officials said the project is 76 percent complete, within budget and ahead of schedule. It is scheduled for completion in March 2006.
"For us to do this well means so much for future missions," said Rep. Zach Wamp, R-TN. "The science is so important to our country."
The project could help scientists discover ways to make some materials stronger, longer lasting and much lighter, officials say. About 500 people are involved in building it, with two shifts daily working until 11:30 p.m.
Construction of the facility, touted as the world’s leading center for studying material structure using neutrons, began in December 1999.
Project official Frank Kornegay said the progress is exceeding his expectations.
"I’m an eternal optimist, and even I lay awake at night wondering what could go wrong," Kornegay said. "Things are going very well."
The Bush administration’s budget proposal for fiscal 2005 contains $113.6 million for the SNS, the amount requested to keep the work on track. The project burns about $1 million a day.
"It’s the starting and stopping that will really kill you," said SNS Director Thom Mason, noting the big project suffered from criticism and uneven funding in its early years.
Even as construction continues, scientists have started testing the ion beam and evaluating other technical components.
Tests and scientific operations will become an increasing part of day-to-day activities over the next couple of years.
The machine will produce large streams of neutrons for experiments that explore the basic building blocks of materials. Supporters say the knowledge gained from the Oak Ridge research will support development of products in many areas, ranging from new-generation computers to artificial blood.
Once it becomes operational, the research complex will have an annual operating budget of about $160 million and attract scientists from around the globe.