On this website, you can find out what the Einstein Telescope is and what opportunities this underground observatory offers for the Euroregio Meuse-Rhine, for Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany and – more broadly – for science. We have highlighted the answers to frequently asked questions and you will find them below.
That is impossible to say at the moment. We are optimistic, but the reality is also that we are still in the feasibility phase. European scientists and ministries decided in 2021 that this project will be on the European Roadmap (ESFRI) and should be brought to realisation within 10 years. These scientists (united in the ETO / Einstein Telescope Organisation) and ministries (united in the BGR) are now working out the project and timeline for realisation and site selection. Site selection will follow in the next few years. Meanwhile, our Euregio is already working hard on a bid book to demonstrate technical, organisational and financial feasibility. The starting position of our Euroregion is favourable. Initial geological and economic feasibility studies have proved positive. Institutes and companies are already fully cooperating in a cross-border R&D programme. Studies and preparations needed for a bid book are being carried out in the project office.
A lot of research is still being done in this feasibility phase. Think geological soil research to find the ideal site for the three corner sites within the search area. At the same time, all aspects related to building an underground observatory are being looked at. This goes far beyond construction issues. After all, such a construction phase involves much more. Where will we go with the soil that is drilled out? What will the logistics look like? What will it mean for the surrounding area? All questions to which answers are currently being sought.
Because the Einstein Telescope is an international project, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany are working together. For example, studies are underway into the differences in planning laws and regulations and their significance for the Einstein Telescope project. A mega-project like the Einstein Telescope costs a lot of money to make the candidacy possible. Preparations and construction are calculated at around €2 billion. The cooperating countries must pledge a contribution to raise that amount. Currently, the Dutch government has earmarked about 1 billion euros for the preparation and construction through the National Growth Fund. North Rhine-Westphalia has also pledged support for construction. Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands agreed in Bonn on 13 December 2022 to work together in a task force on the bid book and the formation of a host consortium to enable the candidature.
In short, there are quite a few topics that will be further explored through research in the coming period. The answers and results will be incorporated into the bidbook, which will present the three countries as candidates to build the Einstein Telescope.
It is about a triangular-shaped tunnel with arms of (3 times) 10 kilometres long. It is an underground observatory that will be located at a depth of 250 to 300 metres. At the three vertices there will be underground rooms/chambers. Laser beams run through the 10-kilometre arms (the tunnel tubes). A laser beam is split into two beams and these are reflected by mirrors at the ends of the arms in the underground chambers. From the three vertices, a lift will reach ground level. Maintenance will be carried out inside the tunnel via these shafts.
With the Einstein Telescope, scientists will soon have an underground detector (observatory) where gravity waves can be studied. It is expected that it will then be possible to ‘look back’ to shortly after the Big Bang. This ten times more accurate measurement facility than its predecessors will provide a lot of new information about the origin of our universe. ‘Ten times more accurate’ means that a thousand times more gravitational waves can be measured. Where it is now once a week, the Einstein Telescope will be able to measure a gravitational wave a hundred times a day. Exactly what information all this will yield and where it could lead, cannot be said in advance. But scientists around the world are convinced that it will yield a lot.
If European countries, united in ESFRI (European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures), agree that a research facility is of great importance for science, the plan for such a facility is placed on the so-called ESFRI list. This is a European priority list in which the scientific community indicates which projects are the most important. As such, these are also the projects on which science money would be responsibly spent. Apart from the benefits that the Einstein Telescope will bring to science, there are other benefits to mention. The development of the Einstein Telescope will develop new techniques that will also be useful to us in everyday life. Innovations that will ultimately lead to advances that benefit everyone in everyday life. Previous research infrastructures such as CERN have made these revolutionary discoveries that have also changed our daily lives. Think of the internet, GPS or medical scanners and radiation equipment. Experience shows that these more derivative benefits are often just as important as the benefits the project brings to science.
Sardinia in Italy has also applied and a feasibility study is underway there too. It is additionally believed that Saxony in Germany may also come forward as a third candidate to want to build the Einstein Telescope. The final choice will be made by the European countries behind the Einstein Telescope project. The body that will make the site selection and the procedure for doing so have yet to be put together. What is clear is that it will consist of delegates from the countries that have expressed support for the project. For now, these are the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Austria, Poland, Spain and the UK. Germany currently holds the position of observer.
The current planning assumes that construction will start in 2028 at the earliest. If it becomes clear that the Einstein Telescope will be built in this region, three years will then be allowed for the preparations for construction and the spatial and licensing procedures. For construction itself, seven years are planned: between 2028 and 2035.
A major construction project like the Einstein Telescope will not be without inconvenience. No mistake about that; that is impossible with such projects. We realise we are ‘guests’ in a beautiful, nature-rich area. This also means that we will take this into account as much as possible when working out our plans. Moreover, we will obviously have to comply with rules, regulations and laws later on, as is the case with any major building project. Once the exact location in this Euroregion is in sight, we can make more concrete plans for construction. One of the central questions here is how to minimise inconvenience to residents in the area.
Yes. We consider this to be a guarantee for properly weighing up all interests in such a large project in order to ultimately arrive at the best choices. In doing so, we look first and foremost at feasibility in relation to the spatial plans and regulations in which many environmental issues are laid down. During the implementation of the feasibility studies, we are also in direct contact with municipalities and residents in the direct surroundings to make sure they are informed. The environmental impact assessment is also prepared during the feasibility phase.
Yes indeed. Sustainability is an important item. An exploratory study is being conducted into how sustainability – in the broadest sense of the word – can play a role in the preparations, the construction, the period of operation and even as early as the dismantling of the Einstein Telescope. The topic of sustainability thus becomes an important building block for the feasibility study. This is one of the topics that will naturally also be reflected in the environmental impact assessment.
The candidacy is a primary responsibility of the participating countries. At European level, ministries make agreements on the organisation and financing. And discussions have also started between Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands on the formation of a joint bid book and a host consortium for the candidacy. The candidate countries will have to present an attractive proposal to other countries, including financially. After all, the candidate countries and host region will also be the first to benefit from infrastructure, scientific and economic. The construction of the Einstein Telescope is budgeted at €2 billion. The government in the Netherlands, through the National Growth Fund, has earmarked around €1 billion for preparations and construction in 2022. The German state of North Rhine Westphalia has indicated its willingness to help pay for the construction if the German government in Berlin also says ‘yes’ to the project. In Belgium, a decision has yet to be taken on this.
Operation of the Einstein Telescope will be 50 years. How the distribution of the operating costs, €40 million annually, will look like and what contributions can be expected from the other participating countries is not yet clear.
The starting position of our euregio for locating the Einstein Telescope here is excellent. For instance, initial soil studies have proved favourable. Moreover, the peaceful landscape provides the guarantees needed for good scientific measurements. And the larger surrounding Euroregion has strong research institutes and high-tech companies that make science and the realisation of the Einstein Telescope possible. This is also an area with good infrastructure connections and an attractive international living and business climate.
So what does it deliver? Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, and in particular this Euroregion where the underground observatory will hopefully be built, will be leading the world in science. The knowledge infrastructure in the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion is already in good shape with the top technology area between Leuven, Aachen, Eindhoven, Maastricht and also with those in the Liège region, but it will then become many times stronger. In a rapidly changing world where practical application of knowledge plays an increasingly decisive role, this is important. With the Einstein Telescope, there will also be a magnet to keep and attract top talent in the field of natural sciences and engineering in our Euroregion. And the Einstein Telescope also turns out to generate a multitude of economic activities and jobs for the Euroregion. Not just for science itself. It also provides jobs for practically skilled people in the surrounding area and gives an extra boost to regional and local amenities such as retail.
Moreover, the scientific and economic activities will not take place underground or in the hilly landscape, but rather at the research institutes and companies in the Euroregion, where preparations are already underway. The opportunities therefore lie in more areas than just science. For example, research (see elsewhere on this website) shows that every euro invested in the Einstein Telescope will generate three times the economic added value. This will also benefit the region in social terms. Furthermore, research shows that the arrival of the Einstein Telescope will create an estimated 500 direct and 1150 indirect jobs at all educational levels. The Einstein Telescope thus provides opportunities for future generations. It is an engine for a healthy Euroregion and for prosperity, which in turn can contribute to (more) well-being.
The Einstein Telescope is a highly sensitive measuring instrument. For the Einstein Telescope to function properly, an environment as noise-free as possible is important. Initial underground measurements from 2019 have shown that the topsoil has a dampening effect and thus the noise level in the hard surface is sufficiently low. This substantiates the claim that the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion is a promising candidate site. The measurements also showed that there is little margin for additional, new vibration sources. Previous studies have shown that wind turbines are an important source of noise (so-called seismic impact). Nikhef therefore asked the Dutch Province of Limburg to provide guarantees that no new activities will take place in the search area for the Einstein Telescope and a 10-kilometre zone around it that could lead to new vibration sources.
At Nikhef’s request, the (Dutch) Province of Limburg has set rules for wind turbines and excavations. Wind turbines in and around the search area for the Einstein Telescope are excluded; excavations are only possible if it is demonstrated that they are not disruptive to the Einstein Telescope.
The Flemish side has received a letter confirming the exclusion of these developments and has indicated its vigilance to ensure that such developments do not occur in Flanders and has announced formal action against ongoing initiatives. From the Walloon side, the importance has also been recognised and the Walloon government will investigate the technical compatibility of Einstein Telescope and wind turbines. Should this show that they are not compatible, new wind energy projects would be ruled out until – at least – the location choice for the Einstein Telescope. For this reason, in April 2023, the Belgian Council of State annulled some permits for wind turbine plans in the Walloon part of the search and protection area. No confirmation has been received (yet) from the side of NRW for their share in the protection of the buffer zone.
In the coming years, the complex geology combined with other relevant factors in the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion will be further mapped out in order to determine the optimal location for the Einstein Telescope in this Euroregion. It is expected that with this information, the effects of wind turbines can also be better simulated. The intention is that this will also provide more insight into how mitigating (protective) measures can be used, aimed at suppressing noise for a properly functioning Einstein Telescope. These studies will produce results from 2024 at the earliest.
Some misconceptions about the Einstein Telescope.
At the moment, we are in the feasibility phase, which should definitively demonstrate and substantiate that this region is ready in all areas for the construction of the Einstein Telescope. In addition, with Sardinia, there is a second candidate for building the Einstein Telescope. And perhaps a third candidate will follow with Germany’s Saxony. The choice of where the Einstein Telescope will be built is expected in the next few years. Construction itself will begin in 2028 at the earliest.
The answer to that is unequivocal: no. The underground observatory requires such stable and noise-free soil. This site would never have been considered if this border region had an increased risk of earthquakes and hence earthquake damage. Nor does the construction and subsequent use of the telescope at a depth of about 250 metres in the ground increase the risk of earthquakes. Compare it to a hard stone, into which a hole is drilled from one side to the other. That hole is very small in relation to the whole stone. That does not make that stone softer or more unstable. This is also how the construction of the Einstein Telescope should be seen in relation to the whole rock. Another comparison is with a car tunnel through a high mountain, e.g. the Gothard tunnel in Switzerland: the tunnel does not make the mountain unstable.
A comparison with earthquakes in Groningen due to gas extraction is also out of the question here. In Groningen, gas is under pressure in a porous layer deep below the surface. This layer owes its solidity to the presence of that gas. When you start extracting that gas, that porous layer becomes more unstable and that can lead to subsidence and earthquakes. That soil can become more unstable as a result, as has unfortunately been seen in Groningen.
Nor is there any comparison between the Einstein Telescope and mining in southern Limburg. In mining, entire layers were extracted from the soil, relatively close to the surface. This is comparable to gas extraction in Groningen: where the soil in Groningen has become weak or unstable by removing entire layers of gas, the same was the case in the South Limburg region by removing coal layers.
On this too we can be clear: no. In no way has a relationship of the Einstein Telescope with nuclear energy ever been discussed; not during construction, not during operation, nor for the period after decommissioning 50 years later.
We have indicated that once the Einstein Telescope is built, little of the underground observatory will be visible in the immediate area. While most of the people who will soon work for the telescope will do so in the Euroregion, they will not do so in and around the observatory itself. For example, a research centre is more likely to be set up in one of the larger, surrounding cities. Housing will often focus on those cities. In addition, the spatial layout and housing supply also differs in the border region between the three countries. The housing market will obviously be monitored towards 2035, and there is still plenty of room to manage this.