DOE launches Environmental Assessment for LBNE

The LBNE neutrino beamline at Fermilab would be located on the western part of the Fermialb site, near Giese and Kirk Roads. The locations of the three planned service buildings are marked with blue squares, and the footprint of the planned 52-foot-high hill is marked in green. Planned access roads are marked in yellow.

The planned Long-Baseline Neutrino Experiment is one of Fermilab’s most prominent projects. Last week, the U.S. Department of Energy began the Environmental Assessment process for this project, which will determine if its construction and operation would have a significant impact on the environment.

LBNE is a collaboration of more than 350 scientists in five countries. It has been conceived as a world-leading neutrino experiment, one that involves sending trillions of the tiny particles through 800 miles of earth from Fermilab in Batavia to a detector at the Sanford Lab in South Dakota.

The first phase of the project would involve building a beam pipe underground on the Fermilab site and constructing a large hill a little more than 1,000 feet from Kirk Road to accommodate it. A 50-foot-high neutrino detector would be built just below the surface in Lead, S.D., at Sanford Lab. Because neutrinos rarely interact with other particles, no tunnel would be needed to send them through the earth.

Last month, the project received CD-1 approval for the conceptual design from DOE. Scientists and engineers can now proceed with the engineering design. Before the next approval can be given, LBNE must undergo an environmental review to determine just what impact building and operating the experiment might have on the environment.

The assessment is governed by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). DOE will look at potential impacts to air, sound, water and soil, among other effects. If it is found that the project would have a significant impact, a more extensive review, called an Environmental Impact Statement, would have to be undertaken.

The entire process will take about 18 months, according to Peter Siebach, who is the DOE’s NEPA compliance officer on the project. During that time, several public outreach events are planned.

The first will be a public information period, during which neighbors and other interested parties can attend informative meetings on the project, both in Illinois and in South Dakota. Fermilab’s meeting is tentatively scheduled for late spring. The collaboration has unveiled a new LBNE Web page on the NEPA process, including a new fact sheet, providing detailed information on the process.

After this period, DOE will write a draft of the Environmental Assessment and distribute it online. It will also be posted libraries and public reading rooms in Illinois and South Dakota. Siebach said there will then be a 30-day public comment period, during which interested parties can fill in comment forms, contact DOE representatives by phone and write letters and e-mails with their input.

During the comment period there will also be a series of public meetings held in both states to allow those with questions and concerns to meet face to face with DOE officials. At least one of those meetings will be held at Fermilab, Siebach said, although the final schedule has not been drafted.

Once the public input period is over, DOE will write a final Environmental Assessment with all public comments included. If the assessment shows that the surrounding areas would not be adversely affected, DOE will issue a Finding of No Significant Impact, and the approval process will move ahead.

“Through this process we’ll be able to understand if there are any significant environmental impacts,” Siebach said.

The next planned milestone for the LBNE project would be initial construction of the beamline at Fermilab, scheduled to begin in 2015. CD-2 approval, the next stage of the DOE process, would be expected in 2016, and the experiment would be slated to begin taking data in 2023, all contingent upon the outcome of the NEPA process.

Andre Salles