Federal Research:

Status of DOE's Superconducting Super Collider

RCED-91-116: Published: Apr 15, 1991. Publicly Released: Apr 15, 1991.

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Victor S. Rezendes
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the status of the Department of Energy's (DOE) Superconducting Super Collider (SSC), focusing on the: (1) stability of DOE and SSC laboratory project management; (2) uncertainties related to the SSC site geology; (3) uncertainties and risks associated with magnet development and production; and (4) Texas' proposed contribution to the project's costs.

GAO found that: (1) the SSC laboratory and DOE SSC program office experienced management instability due to high turnover in key positions; (2) Texas based its 1987 site proposal on the expectation that DOE would excavate the SSC tunnel through two types of geologic formations, but a change in the tunnel shape and location required excavation through a third type of geologic formation that has a high shrink-swell potential; (3) to better understand the SSC site geology, the SSC laboratory planned to construct a section of the SSC tunnel before beginning full-scale construction; (4) DOE did not build or test full-size dipole magnets for the current SSC design; (5) because DOE changed the magnet design in December 1989, the tooling to build the full-size magnet was not yet available; (6) to reduce magnet risks, the SSC laboratory added 5 months to the scheduled production start for the magnets, but the schedule remained compressed; (7) the magnets' delayed development schedule increased performance risks, since little time will be available to resolve any encountered problems; (8) Texas offered to contribute at least $1 billion and land toward SSC in its September 1987 site proposal; and (9) in September 1990, DOE and Texas agreed that Texas would contribute $875 million toward the $8.2-billion estimated total project cost and use the remaining $125 million for SSC-related activities.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress put no constraints on the FY 1992 budget for SSC. Therefore, no further action can be taken.

    Matter: In deliberating the fiscal year 1992 funding for SSC, Congress may wish to consider limiting the risk to the federal government by making the funding of tunnel construction contingent on the successful completion of the above-ground string test of collider dipole magnets.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should provide the SSC program greater management stability by expeditiously following through on its plans to appoint a permanent program manager the direct the Office of the SSC.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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