In DepthParticle Physics

Leaks put Italy's underground lab in jeopardy

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Science  12 Oct 2018:
Vol. 362, Issue 6411, pp. 138-139
DOI: 10.1126/science.362.6411.138

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Scientists fear for the future of Gran Sasso National Laboratory, a world-leading underground physics lab in central Italy, after prosecutors charged four lab leaders with endangering drinking water supplies. Sparked by a number of accidental spills that released small amounts of toxic chemicals into groundwater feeding a local aqueduct, the 28 September legal action could lead to at least two major Gran Sasso experiments being shut down. The largest facility of its kind, Gran Sasso consists of three huge experimental halls carved out of a mountain next to a motorway tunnel that connects the cities of L'Aquila and Teramo in Italy's Abruzzo region. Sheltered from cosmic rays by 1400 meters of rock, the lab draws physicists from around the world to probe neutrinos, search for dark matter, and study other rare subatomic phenomena. But it has also attracted the ire of environmentalists. Some of the experiments rely on large tanks of organic compounds to detect subatomic particles, and critics worry that leaks could contaminate the surrounding mountain aquifer, which provides drinking water to hundreds of thousands of people.