NewsHammer Exclusive After a brief and successful restart this November, the Large Hadron Collider is on standby until March for more fixes and re-commissioning to higher energies. It's an uncharacteristic and surprising move by CERN, four years behind schedule and billions over budget on the $10 Billion collider, but a welcome go-slow approach to machine safety.

In September 2008 days after start-up a $40 Million accident crippled the LHC for over a year. Until the surprise winter break, CERN's objectives were for 3.5 TeV beams by the end of 2009 instead of the 1.18 TeV beams achieved, though with a bonus of some test collisions at a record 2.36 TeV.

Data highlights of CMS collisions have just been released in an article on MIT News. The big surprises were high numbers of mesons produced, and those numbers increased faster with collision energies, not predicted by models based on lower energy collisions at other colliders. CMS will publish its formal paper in the Journal of High Energy Physics.

Why Stop There? 2.36 TeV instead of 7 TeV

The abrupt end to commissioning in December at higher energies also surprised CERNies on site besides fans of the LHC. It wasn't because of the usual winter shutdown over the holidays. Safety concerns won over speed. Going to higher TeV meant jumping over another threshold in magnet powering, above 2,000 Amps. With so many magnets damaged last time during the 2008 busbar accident, Steve Meyers, CERN's #1 collider guy, decided to go slow again. Anyway the leaky CMS experiment and the faulty nQPS, the new Quench Protection System for the thousands of magnets, were also having trouble big time.

2010-2011 LHC Run 18-24 Months at 3.5 TeV per Beam

After a rethink last week at Chamonix, the collider's favorite ski resort, CERN has decided on going slower still. After current repairs and retrofits that should be completed by mid-February, now pushed ahead to March (don't ask) the LHC will aim for 3.5 TeV beams and 7 TeV collisions or 7 Tera or 7 Trillion Electron Volts, over the next 18 to 24 months, shutting down for lengthy major safety retrofits for possibly a year. Then in 2013 commissioning to 7 TeV per beam and 14 TeV collisions. Alarmingly sensible. Collider safety taking precedence? Congratulations, CERN.

Though potentially more dangerous heavy lead ion collisions, are now off the back burner and might start this Fall.

Unforeseen Radiation and $235 Million to $Billions More In Upgrades

More surprises at Chamonix. The end of January 5 day event, largely a study of safety at 5 TeV per beam, current LHC status of safety upgrades, and future safety upgrades, was more of the usual data avalanche. Here comes the check for the big holiday blowout.

Including new amazing unforeseen radiation hazards that will develop as the collider runs (Session 6--Radiation to Electronics) to deficiencies in the pre-accelerators (Session 8) including Electron Cloud trouble, and aging equipment and a need for higher energy injection beams with more bunches per beam or Billions More Dollars in upgrades. Maybe 100 Million Swiss Francs in civil engineering to move huge power supplies away from radiation zones, unknown but substantial costs to shield and/or redesign and replace equipment prone to radiation damage. Maybe at a minimum 1.3 or 1.4 Billion SF to upgrade pre-accelerators, probably much more if aging systems need full replacement. And more major upgrades to ventilation equipment including more ventilation shafts that were alarmingly inadequate for the 6 ton spill of Helium in 2008.

Here's the schedule and presentation abstracts including links to CERN docs and slides, "LHC Performance Workshop - Chamonix 2010". A "Summary of the ....", the webcast of February 5 and now a 2 part video from CERN, covers the main points made at Chamonix. Here's the abstract of the video, including links to docs cited and slides shown.

An important but informal end comment from the DG, Dr Rolf-Dieter Heuer, the new Director General of CERN since January 2009, didn't make it to video.

After Steve Meyers overview of radiation hazards developing and damaging equipment, to answer the big unspoken question hanging in the air, Meyers said:

"I think a declaration 10 or 15 years ago that the underground service areas in the LHC were non-radiation areas."

After Meyer's conclusions, Dr Heuer, sitting in his seat up front summed up his thoughts this way to the CERN audience:

"Instead of making decisions every 3 months, I prefer to have enough time to think it over."

A radical change from last year's we're good to go to 5 TeV per beam and gradual installation of more safety systems over the next 5 years. The estimate back in July for safety after $40 M in repairs was a whopping $235 Million extra in "LHC Status by Steve Meyers..." CERN video, still ignored by the media for safety the collider should have had before the accident of 2008. No CERN press release, that must be it. The new faster CERN schedule on safety upgrades will still mean spending the $235 M, while $1 to $2 Billion more on other upgrades thanks to the Chamonix review is now being considered. Hard to recall the LHC is a new collider.

One thing CERN forgot was the $1 Gazillion for Computer Systems Security including SCADA and Ethernet-Connected Instrumentation Systems. Why wait for the Trojans to attack?

All Ahead Slow: New Physics In Sight

If the LHC Machine is being re-engineered for more safety, it's the same old anything goes as to what the LHC might produce in terms of New Physics. Exciting not to know where physics is going, but hardly something to brag about. An army of the best minds in HEP don't have a clue? We're going to the Moon, but we might wind up on Mars or Venus or maybe we don't have enough thrust to go anywhere?

We've all read about it over and over again. Wow, the LHC is on the brink of answering the biggest questions in the Universe. Great. Where can I buy one? Or more realistically the LHC is an experiment with the unknown, with unknown consequences, with little in the way of safety studies and risk assessments.

As with design and engineering before the accident, CERN is still relying on its own considerable expertise in what will happen at the LHC with its experiments. It's what CERN doesn't do with all that expertise that raises some red flags on safety like not studying all the risk scenarios and not performing slow and difficult computer modeling of collider objects the LHC might produce and what they would do at the LHC.

CERN isn't worried, so why should we be? Well, CERN wasn't worried before the big accident CERN still calls "the incident". Accidents preventable, incidents happen. Now poised to go to extremely high energy collisions of 7 TeV as early as this March and ultimately to 14 TeV, the LHC may create objects like micro black holes that might threaten the planet.

--Alan Gillis

This is Part 1 of a report on machine safety and potential risks of expected Collider Objects like mBH at the LHC when the collider jumps to very high unknown energies this March. "Doomsday Report: New Physics At The LHC" will appear in The Science of Conundrums.

NewsHammer Part 2: Fantastic LHC Energies May Be Higher Than Expected


  1. LHC-Critique // February 11, 2010 at 6:28 PM  

    Dear Alan Gillis, very interesting backgrounds...! Though it might be misleading for some readers to mention per beam energies and centre of mass energies (which is double of the first) in the same paragraph. For clarification: 1.18 TeV per beam is the official "record" of the LHC, this results in collisions at 2.36 TeV centre of mass energy (2 beams x 1.18). So 1.18 and 2.36 refer to the same "record", depending on measuring beam or collision energy. The planned 3.5 per beam would result in 7 TeV centre of mass.

    This means, from 1.18 (2.36) to 3.5 (7) it is a giant step. Regarding all the technical concerns, nobody understands why CERN itself does not plan to start up in several smaller steps, after careful analyses each time, also of collision products.

    We heard that at the Chamonix discussion, technicians were very sceptical or opposed to run the machine at 3.5 TeV per beam, though the theoreticians were pushing that. It seems like they want to present some results before asking for very much money again for further "upgrades".

    Concerning the risks of collision products, a slower step by step start up could (under some circumstances) reduce but presently cannot exclude possible global risks (in ongoing discourse) arising from the big bang machine. Critics claim that the LHC should not operate at unprecedented energies at all before a neutral and multidisciplinary risk evaluation is done.

    In a recent article about his remarkable independent study, Prof. Eric E. Johnson states: "Many of the physicists quoted in the media on LHC safety issues seem not to have engaged with the literature in any depth," Johnson told "Physicists speaking to the public about the black-holes question portray it as a simple matter. It really is not. At the end of the day, the LHC may or may not be safe, but most of the arguments you hear in favor of the collider lack robustness."

    Please read about the risks and dangers connected to the "Big Bang Experiment" here:

  2. N. Tottoli // February 13, 2010 at 7:10 PM  

    Dear CERN

    It is not too late to take heart and to change the mind.
    Many theories contradict each other and it would be probably better to wait a bit longer.
    Risk is probability multiplied by the damage factor.
    Maybe the possibility is small but what about the damage factor ?
    Driving a car is risky too, but a car accident means not loosing the whole world.
    Can mankind tolerate a "very small risk" to the whole evolution ?
    Handling the machine is one thing but searching for "new physics" and possibly risking the planet the other.

    Important differences exist between the natural collisions and the LHC-made collisions.
    For example nature never produces slow micro black holes near celestial bodies. CERN could make one per second.
    In nature very fast protons or atoms from the universe collide with slow atoms of the air.
    Only by means of frontal collisions like those at the LHC, in which both collision partners have near the same speed, the speeds extinct themselves mutually resulting in increased mass and possibly in slow micro black holes.
    There was never such a concentrated and fast ion beam in nature like at the LHC since the existence of earth.
    The probability of “multiple high energy collisions” like triple collisions which are rare in nature is therefore increased.
    It is known, that at higher energies and beam densities, interactions between freshly appeared nuclei to "recombine" new species is quite different from those at lower energies and beam densities, because different particles have unequal live times and unequal conditions form different particles.
    Therefore it is possible that “exotic matter” could develop.

    The mass-energy distribution of the universe appears to consist of 73% dark energy, 23% cold dark matter and 4% ordinary matter.
    The properties of dark energy and dark matter are largely unknown (!)
    Nobody knows exactly the mechanisms which could convert ordinary matter into “dark matter”.
    What is the reason that ordinary matter is such a small part of the universe ? Should we not remind that and take care ?

    We have only one world and there will be no "undo"...
    Dear CERN it would be honourable to make a new open scientific safety conference and to include the critical scientists too.
    Thank you everybody.

    Kindly regards,

    N. Tottoli

  3. Walter L. Wagner // March 29, 2010 at 7:54 PM  

    Dear Alan Gillis:

    Recent private communications with one of the authors of the CERN 2008 LSAG Report clarifies certain points. In the paper by Giddings and Mangano, "Astrophysical implications of hypothetical stable TeV-scale black holes" relied on for safety arguments by LSAG, G&M use lower values for both NS (Neutron Star) and WD (White Dwarf) for their field strengths than are generally accepted.

    Essentially, a WD has scrunched down some 10^6 fold (100-fold smaller diameter) from a typical star having a field of 1 Gauss (1 G), and thus should have a field of 10^6 Gauss, which is the generally observed field strength. However, the study uses 10^3 G and obtains a much higher flux of energetic cosmic rays, thus allowing for formation of MBHs on a WD at a much higher rate, which should cause it to extinguish, if they are stopped.

    The report assumes they are stopped at a certain rate, using a range of values, which of course is not certain. Combining the probable much higher field strength and therefore greatly reduced flux of MBHs would extend the visible lifetime to what we believe we observe (billions of years) for WDs. Reducing the stopping power to lower values also extends the lifetime even further. Either of those two effects greatly weakens the argument, and combined effectively nullifies it.

    Second, on the weaker NS argument (which is effectively abandoned by them with direct-impact CRs on the body of the NS due to the high magnetic field essentially precluding direct formation of MBHs), the report calculates that they would create about one MBH every 2 million years (using the companion star to form the MBH, a few of which would then transit to the NS, which sweeps out a small percentage of the full sphere of MBH production from the companion star), thereafter rapidly causing the NS to collapse on the order of minutes to weeks (much shorter than for the WD due to the much higher internal pressure). This is quite possibly true. The difficulty with this argument is not the one the authors suggest, but rather the fact that NS observed lifetimes do not exceed a few million years. The report assumes they have observed lifetimes on the order of a billion years, which they do not. Rather, most of the papers I've read suggest detectable lifetimes on the order of 100,000 years to a few milliion years maximum. So if they are extinguishing due to MBHs at the two million year range (some shorter, some longer), we can't distinguish that from our observation, and thus there is no contradiction.

    Neither of the arguments allows for the 'slippery' MBHs as postulated by Dr. Roessler (they can't be stopped at all if they are near-relativistic, according to the 'slippery' argument), which is not a required argument for the criticisms above.

    These criticisms of the LSAG report and the Giddings/Mangano paper used to support it do not address the additional scenario of strangelet production when Pb-Pb collisions are entertained at the LHC.

    Walter L. Wagner