Are neighbouring countries jeopardising the Einstein Telescope?

Are neighbouring countries jeopardising the Einstein Telescope?

Where the Netherlands is making pace, German and Belgium commitments are lagging behind

05-09-2022 · News

MAASTRICHT. The German government refuses to authorise financial support for the construction of the Einstein Telescope, while the planned building of the wind turbines in the Walloon provinces is jeopardising the whole project. Are neighbouring countries standing in the way of the project worth billions coming to South Limburg?

In 2025, the decision will be taken as to where the Einstein Telescope – an underground observatory for gravitational waves – will be built. The competition seems to be between Sardinia and South Limburg. Looking at the location (the detector has to be somewhere inside a triangle of Maastricht, Liege and Aachen), the Netherlands has joined forces with Germany and Belgium in a bid to win the European project.

The Dutch government recently made serious commitments. In spring of this year, the government reserved almost 900 million euro for the construction of the detector, in addition to a contribution of 42 million for the preparations. The province of Limburg also wants to keep the ground as ‘free from vibrations’ as possible. Wind turbines, mining and heavy industry can cause vibrations up to kilometres away and so disrupt accurate measurements. New initiatives, including a wind turbine project near Heerlen, are not approved for the time being.

The two neighbouring countries, however, appear to be less eager to secure the candidacy. Although the German federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia supports the project, the German federal government has not promised a single euro so far. “I see no room whatsoever in the near future for a contribution towards the Einstein Telescope,” minister of Education and Research, Bettina Stark-Watzinger, recently wrote in a letter to the Aachen regional cooperative body, which had explicitly requested financial support.

Resistance

In Belgium, where the Walloon Prime Minister Elio Di Rupo showed keen interest in the project and the Belgian-Limburg governor Jos Lantmeeters recently argued in favour of an investment of a billion euro, definite commitments have not been made either. While total financing of the project – estimated to be at least two billion euro – seems unachievable without a contribution from the two neighbouring countries.

Moreover, Walloon plans for wind turbines and zinc mining have thrown a considerable spanner in the works. Despite resistance from Flemish and Walloon politicians, the Walloon government has recently issued permits for a wind farm near Dalhem and a wind turbine near Visé, both just across the Dutch border, in an area where they can cause considerable disruption to the detector’s measurements. The Dutch province of Limburg has meanwhile appealed against the plans in Visé.

Filter through

Is the future of the megaproject coming to Limburg in danger? Without the co-operation of the two neighbouring countries, it will indeed be tough, says Stan Bentvelsen, director of Nikhef and scientific director of the Dutch candidacy for the Einstein Telescope. Nevertheless, he is not terribly worried at the moment. “We mainly see that the Netherlands is a few steps ahead. There is a lot of enthusiasm here for the project, which is something that still has to filter through in politics in Germany and Belgium.”

Are things not going too slowly? The year 2025 will soon be upon us. “It is indeed important that the project is given more attention in the coming time. From the Dutch government, but also from the German and Belgian scientists and the local business community. Working from the idea that the project will have a major impact on innovation and prosperity in the region. This was important to gain the Dutch government’s support for the idea as well.”

Bentvelsen is not suffering from sleepless nights due to the recent German refusal for financial support. “That was quite a formal answer from the minister. The German government has a roadmap of scientific projects in which it invests; the Einstein Telescope is simply not on it yet. Definite promises of large investments can only be made when this is the case. At the end of this year, they will update that roadmap again, and only after that can you draw realistic conclusions." He does have a good feeling about that. Just like the cross-border negotiations regarding the Walloon plans for wind turbines. “You can see that it is starting to come alive more and more outside the Netherlands.”

Illustration: Marco Kraan, Nikhef

Tags: einstein telescope,einsteintelescope,germany,belgium,observatory,politics,science

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