Start of tunnel construction for the European XFEL (June 2010)

European XFEL tunnel

First tunnel and borer christening ceremony on the European XFEL construction site Schenefeld on 30 June 2010. In the foreground the tunnel boring machine in its start shaft. (Photo: European XFEL)

The traditional tunnel and borer christening celebration on 30 June 2010 marked the start of construction of the tunnel system for the X-ray laser European XFEL. On 31 June 2010 the first of the two tunnel boring machines – TULA (“TUnnel for LAser”) – will start in the direction of DESY, where it will arrive in summer 2011. TULA's dimensions: 6.17 metres in diameter, 71 metres long, weighing 550 tonnes and costing 18 million Euros.

More than 500 guests attended the ceremony on the building site in Schenefeld (Pinneberg district, Schleswig-Holstein), the future research campus of the X-ray laser facility. Godmother for the tunnels excavated by TULA and by the same token “earthly patron saint” for the tunnel builders is Dr. Herlind Gundelach, State Minister for Science and Research of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg.

The new X-ray laser research facility is 3.4 kilometres long and located in the German federal states of Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein. Its tunnel system comprises a 2.1-kilometre-long section for the electron accelerator and a “fan” of five tunnel sections in which the X-ray flashes used for research will be generated. These tunnels end in an underground experiment hall. In total, 5777 meters of tunnel will be constructed in the next two years using two boring machines, the larger of which now starts excavating the tunnel sections underneath the city of Hamburg.

The tunnels of the European XFEL are located so deep that they run in the ground water. They are excavated directly underground using large tunnel boring machines. This well-proven method is used throughout the world for the construction of road and railway tunnels, for instance. The tunnels of the European X-ray laser have different diameters. Whereas the inner diameter of the accelerator tunnel is 5.30 metres, most of the sections of the tunnel fan have an inner diameter of 4.60 metres. They will therefore be constructed in sections by two tunnel boring machines of different size. Tunnel construction will last from July 2010 to summer 2012. The tunnel celebration marks the start of the larger machine. The smaller one will begin boring at the end of this year.

European XFEL

Assembly of the first European XFEL tunnel boring machine. (Photo: European XFEL)

As the only research facility of this kind in the world, the European XFEL will produce high-intensity ultra-short X-ray flashes with the properties of laser light 27 000 times per second. This new light source will open up a whole range of new research perspectives for the natural sciences. The results will benefit a wide range of disciplines as well as industrial users – for instance for the development of new materials in the nanoworld or more effective medicines.

As an international project, the European XFEL is operated by an independent research organisation, the non-profit European XFEL GmbH. This limited liability company was founded under German law in November 2009 and already employs a staff of almost 60 people. A total of 12 countries are currently participating in the project (Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Russia, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland). China is planning to participate. The present shareholders of the European XFEL GmbH are Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Russia, Slovakia, Sweden and Switzerland; China, France, Greece, Italy, Poland and Spain are planning to join the company. The construction costs for the facility including the commissioning amount to 1082 million Euro (price levels of 2005).

(...from DESY Press release, 30 June 2010)

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