After over a decade, the proposal for Indian Neutrino Observatory has received nod from the Environment Ministry and the Union Government says it will be operational in seven years’ time. The INO in the Bodi West Hills (BWH) in Theni district of Tamil Nadu will prime India firmly in the field of particle physics research.
During December 2010, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) had sent letter to Government of Tamil Nadu for allotment of land to set up the Observatory, its surface facilities and for setting up of the National Centre for High Energy Physics-INO Centre. Accordingly, the Tamil Nadu Government had allotted land of 26.8 ha for the project at Bodi West Hills.
“The INO is estimated to be operationalised seven years after obtaining all statutory clearances,” the information was provided by the Union Minister of State (Independent Charge) Development of North-Eastern Region (DoNER), MoS PMO, Personnel, Public Grievances & Pensions, Atomic Energy and Space, Dr Jitendra Singh in written reply to a question in Lok Sabha.
The sanctioned cost of the project is Rs. 1583 Crore (USD 24.33 million). The project had got the Environment Ministry’s approval earlier this year. The project is promoted by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. This will be the second project for neutrino research in India. The earlier project came to a stop after the Kolar Gold Fields were shut down in mid-1990s.
The Observatory will study atmospheric neutrinos in a 1,300 meters deep cave. When completed, the main magnetised iron calorimieter (ICAL) experiment is envisaged to include the world’s largest magnet, four times larger than the 12,500-tonne magnet in the Compact Muon Solenoid detector at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland.
Neutrinos are harmless and not till long ago were considered mass-less. Billions of neutrinos pass through our body every second, without hurting an atom or a molecule in our body. Two Nobel Prizes have already been given to scientists for research on these neutrinos. The neutrinos are part of elementary particle shower in natural cosmic rays and to isolate them require special observatories where they are secluded from other radiation.
To create trained scientists to construct and operate this laboratory, an Inter-Institutional Centre for High Energy Physics (IICHEP) is being established near the Madurai Kamaraj University campus.
Former Indian President and scientist Dr APJ Kalam has sought to allay fears around the project by writing in the Hindu (the English-language daily) in July 2015: “Just as CERN has become famous for its Large Hadron Collider project, Theni and the surrounding region will become famous for neutrino particle physics experiments. I expect great scientific and technological activity in the project site and the neighbouring academic institutions.”