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Sanford Lab addresses questions about mega-science project.
Constance Walter

What is a neutrino?

Neutrinos are among the most abundant particles in the universe. There are a billion times more neutrinos than there are particles that make up stars, planets and people. Neutrinos pass harmlessly through atoms that make up the earth and everything on it, including humans. In nature, neutrinos are produced in great quantities in the sun and in smaller quantities in the interior of the earth. Even bananas and people emit neutrinos.

Are neutrinos safe?

Yes, neutrinos are safe. Neutrinos do not emit radiation. Each second of every day of your entire life, more than a trillion neutrinos from the sun pass through your body. While other particles (x-rays, electrons, protons, etc.) can negatively affect human health when entering a body in large quantities, neutrinos have absolutely no effect, whatsoever.

Will the neutrino beam from Fermilab be safe?

Yes, the beam of neutrinos will be completely safe. Neutrinos do not emit radiation, they don’t create heat and they don’t change the properties of the materials through which they travel. Fermilab has safely operated neutrino-producing facilities for more than 30 years. In fact, since 2005, the laboratory has been sending neutrinos harmlessly from Fermilab through the ground to research facilities in Minnesota.

In the production of neutrinos, some radiation will be produced, but only inside an underground facility on the Fermilab site in Illinois. For the LBNF/DUNE project, scientists will use one of Fermilab’s existing particle accelerators to make muon neutrinos. In the accelerator, protons will be directed at a piece of graphite, producing secondary particles that generate neutrinos. A video describing this process is below.

This process is carried out inside a concrete vault in a cavern surrounded by earth and rock. When the protons hit the target, radiation will be created. However, the radiation will be stopped by the concrete vault on the Fermilab site. Only neutrinos will emerge and travel toward the detectors deep underground in South Dakota. 

Why make neutrinos if there are so many in nature?

Neutrinos come in three types: electron neutrino, muon neutrino and tau neutrino. Neutrinos from the sun arrive on Earth as a mixture of all three types. Fermilab can make a neutrino beam that is 99.9% muon neutrinos. No natural source can produce such a pure stream of muon neutrinos. And it is this type of neutrino that DUNE requires to help us better understand the role neutrinos play in our universe. 

What are the benefits of the LBNF/DUNE project to South Dakota?

Construction of the LBNF/DUNE facility and the experimental equipment will take about 10 years to complete, and DUNE is planned to operate for at least 20 years. The project will provide construction and technical jobs, train our young people, provide educational opportunities, advance technologies and increase our knowledge of the universe and its building blocks. According to a study carried out by the Anderson Economic Group, LLC, the total economic output of the project will be about $950 million in South Dakota. It will create about $340 million in income for South Dakota households. Ninety percent of this output will be in the 13-county western region of South Dakota. At its peak, the LBNF/DUNE project is expected to create almost 2,000 jobs in the region. A fact sheet with additional information is available.

Where can I find out more about the LBNF/DUNE project?

The Long-Baseline Neutrino Facility and the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment (LBNF/DUNE) websites provide information about the project’s scientific goals, technical specifications, construction progress, and the participants from across the country and around the world.

With the help of several technical experts, including independent consultants, the Department of Energy (DOE) prepared an Environmental Assessment for the LBNF/DUNE project, including the investigation of potential impacts to human health and the environment. The DOE initiated the environmental assessment in May 2013 and released the draft Environmental Assessment in June 2015 for public comment. Public meetings were held in Illinois and in South Dakota. In September 2015, the DOE issued the final environmental assessment and determined that the LBNF/DUNE project will have no significant impact to human health and the environment. View the Environmental Assessment. 

A list of LBNF/DUNE frequently asked questions is also available.