Homestake lab funds in jeopardy

2010-12-09T06:00:00Z 2010-12-09T06:04:18Z Homestake lab funds in jeopardyDavid Montgomery Journal staff Rapid City Journal
December 09, 2010 6:00 am  • 

The future of the Sanford Underground Lab at Homestake in Lead is suddenly in question after a federal board declined to approve the millions of dollars needed to keep the project going past this spring.

That multimillion dollar facility in the former Homestake Mine has been on a path to become a more elaborate Deep Underground Science and Engineering Laboratory under the joint supervision of the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Energy.

That is, until last week, when the NSF's oversight board balked at spending $29 million in funding to operate the lab after current funding expires in May.

Now the lab's funding is uncertain, though Gov. Mike Rounds and people involved in its operation say they are optimistic a solution can be found.

"It's a setback, but we're still really enthusiastic about the project and think we have some other things we can run down," said Graham Garner, vice president for university advancement at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology, which helps operate the laboratory.

The complex costs around $1 million per month for basic operations, including the pumping system that keeps the lower reaches of the mine from filling with water. Its operations and support staff numbers around 90, plus dozens more scientists working on research projects tied to the underground laboratory itself.

Those jobs could be at stake if new funding isn't found soon.

Well before the current funding starts to run out next spring, Rounds said the state and the universities operating the laboratory would have to decide whether to "go into preservation mode" and keep the mine operating as long as possible.

That could mean letting the team of engineers currently designing the laboratory walk away, making it more difficult to bring staff on if funding materializes in the first place.

Many of the staff are working on design and planning for the $300 million DUSEL, to be constructed 7,400 feet underground. It hasn't received final approval, though the interim Sanford Underground Lab is operational 4,850 feet below the surface.

At the core of the sudden funding crisis are doubts by the National Science Board about whether the NSF is really equipped to help run a major national laboratory as it has been planning.

Rounds said "everyone" was taken by surprise by this decision last week.

"This comes as a complete surprise to the officials at the NSF who have been working on this for months or in some case years," he said.

But other funding options exist. The National Science Board, the presidentially appointed oversight board for the National Science Foundation, could decide to approve the $29 million in funding after all.

Alternately, the Department of Energy, previously scheduled to partner with the science foundation on the lab, could pick up a larger role in funding and operating the lab. The Energy Department has much more experience operating large national laboratories than does the National Science Foundation - and hopes to use the underground laboratory to conduct experiments in conjunction with its Fermilab facility in Illinois.

Proponents of the Sanford Lab, including politicians in South Dakota and California - whose University of California, Berkeley, is helping to operate the lab - have been talking with the National Science Board and White House officials to try to secure funding.

Scientists on the project are also arguing against a delay.

"Beyond the hundreds of jobs that are hanging in the balance, the ... project represents the sort of investment in basic science that has throughout our history played a key role in maintaining America's competitiveness, economic growth and scientific leadership," said Dan Mogulof, executive director of the Berkeley office of public affairs. "For that reason the stakes are high for scientists and society as a whole."

Contact David Montgomery at 394-8329 or


Copyright 2015 Rapid City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(13) Comments

  1. Rocky
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    Rocky - December 13, 2010 9:09 am
    Sorry to inform Checkpointsareunconstitutional, alias the world reknown nuclear physicist, that there are many procedures to shield cosmic radiation, other than going 1-2 miles underground with a neverending dewatering expense. So sad that the people "who know what they're talking about" didn't do a better job. What a waste of taxpayer money down the soon to be closed hole.
  2. archiejones
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    archiejones - December 09, 2010 8:48 pm
    Glock10mm said: ""Why is it we always default to the government to fund these things?"Answer: Because most folks on the left have forgotten that the money they earn is theirs first, and not the government's property to confiscate and do with what it wishes. Many on the left can not make the connection that every dollar that government spends (and wastes) comes right out of their own pockets. This is a much easier pill to swallow when one lives off the government and contributes nothing...or next to nothing."

    so according to your theory there are no republicans/conservatives that get any kind of government support?
  3. CheckpointsAreUnconstitutional
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    CheckpointsAreUnconstitutional - December 09, 2010 3:42 pm
    Rocky - You might want to do a little research on particle physics before you claim to know of better sites for a lab. Darkness has nothing to do with the research; the point of putting the lab deep underground is to take advantage of the shielding against cosmic rays (high energy charged particles). People who do know what they're talking about evaluated other locations and determined that Homestake was the best choice, due in large part to the extreme depth.
  4. Glock10mm
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    Glock10mm - December 09, 2010 3:37 pm
    "One is the peer-reviewed overwhelming evidence supported by 97 percent of those qualified to support the theory..."

    Yeah, let's throw global warming into the argument to guarantee this boondoggle is permanently shut down. You do realize that making up that “97%” figure only serves to minimize your case. This is just one more example of the “settled science” argument which is really a non-argument and a completely fabricated position. However, I am certain you believe it just as you probably believe that raising taxes on Americans will ultimately result in a cooler planet, LOL!

  5. Glock10mm
    Report Abuse
    Glock10mm - December 09, 2010 3:21 pm
    "Why is it we always default to the government to fund these things?"

    Answer: Because most folks on the left have forgotten that the money they earn is theirs first, and not the government's property to confiscate and do with what it wishes. Many on the left can not make the connection that every dollar that government spends (and wastes) comes right out of their own pockets. This is a much easier pill to swallow when one lives off the government and contributes nothing...or next to nothing.

  6. Rocky
    Report Abuse
    Rocky - December 09, 2010 3:09 pm
    Soon there will be no more endless expense of pumping of the miracle water into Whitewood Creek at the most expensive site that could have ever been selected for the project. Numerous dry caverns and mines exist that require much less dewatering while still providing total darkness required for experimentation in search of dark matter in a scientists' dreamland. Put the funding and scientists to work in space exploration and producing next generation spacecraft. Breakthroughs in medical and materials research in space far outweigh what can ever be recovered from Sanford Lab. When gold hits $1500/oz. I wonder if Barrick will have any regrets from tearing up the surface workings of the most prestigious gold mine in the world, "The Homestake".
  7. jonesi
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    jonesi - December 09, 2010 3:02 pm
    Why not make everyone happy and let private investors put the money up? Maybe some of the area colleges can come up with some money? It may be in their best interest. Why is it we always default to the government to fund these things? Or do we expect it to be a money pit and that is why people that can provie private funds are staying away from it?
  8. BlackHillsNative
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    BlackHillsNative - December 09, 2010 2:38 pm
    Well with the current price of gold, it is to bad they can't just mine a bit of it. But I am sure Barrick help onto the rights.
  9. Black Hawk
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    Black Hawk - December 09, 2010 9:04 am
    If the Sandford Lab was in another state our politicians would be crying, "wasteful spending". Cut education but fund the lab because, "it's a way to keep our graduates in the state". I find that a contradiction. Money for K-12 education benefits many while money for Sandford only benefits a few. But those few have the levers of power.
  10. CheckpointsAreUnconstitutional
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    CheckpointsAreUnconstitutional - December 09, 2010 8:48 am
    When the populace is shrieking about cutting government spending they'd better be ready to accept the consequences when Congress hears them and starts making cuts. Cutting spending will cost jobs and damage local economies, and it can't always be someone else who suffers. Americans don't want to pay enough taxes to support all the spending currently taking place, so the only alternative is to cut programs all over the country. This is what western SD overwhelming voted for in the recent election, so I expect to hear overwhelming support for cuts that get that deficit under control. I've heard that we can't cut Social Security, Medicare, or defense spending so that leave the tiny slice of the pie containing research funding and other discretionary spending.
  11. 196thlightinfantry
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    196thlightinfantry - December 09, 2010 7:44 am
    Wow, rush, you really got me on that one, about the international sport. I missed that in the article, but you always seem to be able to "read" between the lines and figure that it is some international plot against America, so old news to you. That is just another reason that we should have left ole Sadam stay in the power, he was so convenient and useful in those regards. Scared the pants off the geezers and the rest of the rightwing. Do not worry about this as the republicans have this under control in Washington with the funding. There is a new house majority and they will provide the funding for this as if that really mattered who was in charge.

    This is much like other funding slots in our government that never seem to have enough. The plan for this was good and makes for sound scientific investment. That said, there needs to be an accountant to work with the science community to get this thing right so it does not always seem to be in jeopardy. America has invested to much in this to let it go away now.
  12. Tyrone
    Report Abuse
    Tyrone - December 09, 2010 7:31 am
    This isn't a state that values science as demonstrated by Don Kopp's HCR1009, stating kids should learn both sides of climate change science: One is the peer-reviewed overwhelming evidence supported by 97 percent of those qualified to support the theory and the other is the self-serving 'bought-and-paid-for' research financed by Big Oil and Dirty Coal ... not unlike the 'research' Big Tobacco used to refute the overwhelming evidence linking cancer with tobacco use.

    Now Rep. Kopp et al can introduce legislation refuting the existance of 'dark matter' as being part of an anti-creationist and pro-socialist hoax. After all, it's guv'mint money and we is all 'gainst guv'mint money and those evil-doin' earmarks.
  13. Rush Mountmore
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    Rush Mountmore - December 09, 2010 6:12 am
    A shut down at Homestake-Sanford would be harmful to South Dakota, but disastrous to America's staying near the top in science. Oh well, kicking America when she's down, seems to be the new international sport.
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