July 19, 1999

Statement from BNL Director on Consequences of Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (RHIC) Operations


The following statement was issued today by Brookhaven National Laboratory in response to an article on RHIC published in the July 18 Sunday Times of London.

Statement by John Marburger, Brookhaven Lab Director, on Consequences of RHIC Operations
July 19, 1999

Yesterday, the Sunday Times of London published a story under the headline "Big Bang Machine could destroy the Earth," with an accompanying editorial. The story has its origins in a letter in the July 1999 issue of Scientific American magazine, in which a prominent physicist describes a possible scenario in which an exotic elementary particle transforms its surroundings.

I am familiar with the issue of possible dire consequences of experiments at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider, which Brookhaven Lab is now commissioning. These issues have been raised and examined by responsible scientists who have concluded that there is no chance that any phenomenon produced by RHIC will lead to disaster.

The amount of matter involved in the RHIC collisions is exceedingly small - only a single pair of nuclei is involved in each collision. Our universe would have to be extremely unstable in order for such a small amount of energy to cause a large effect. On the contrary, the universe appears to be quite stable against releases of much larger amounts of energy that occur in astrophysical processes.

RHIC collisions will be within the spectrum of energies encompassed by naturally occurring cosmic radiation. The earth and its companion objects in our solar system have survived billions of years of cosmic ray collisions with no evidence of the instabilities that have been the subject of speculation in connection with RHIC.

I have asked experts in the relevant fields of physics to reduce to a single comprehensive report the arguments that address the safety of each of the speculative "disaster scenarios." I expect the report to be completed well before RHIC produces the high-energy collisions necessary for any of these scenarios. When the report is completed, it will be broadly published and placed on the Laboratory's web site.

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