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National laboratory avoids Italy quake damage

The Gran Sasso National Laboratory, a particle physics research centre 15 km from L’Aquila in central Italy, has survived intact the earthquake that destroyed the historic town on 6 April, and killed at least 180 people.

“Gran Sasso labs and experiments have not suffered consequences of the earthquake,” says Eugenio Coccia, the centre’s director. “But of course many staff have had their houses destroyed, like so many others who live in the region.”

Scientific experiments are being monitored, but no major experimental work will take place until after the Easter holiday, says Coccia. Normal scientific work will begin Tuesday 14 April.

The research centre investigates the properties of neutrinos and dark matter. Its large underground labs built deep inside the Gran Sasso mountain were designed to withstand powerful earthquakes. The epicentre of this one, measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale, was just 10 km west of the centre.

The main highway to the laboratories has been closed for safety reasons, as small quakes are still occurring. The centre has offered to shelter those left homeless by the quake in its surface facilities.

In the meantime, the centre has distanced itself from Giampaolo Giuliani who claims to have predicted the earthquake and says that his warning was ignored. Giuliani has developed and patented a radon detector which he says enables him to predict earthquakes by detecting the radioactive gas leaking from underground sources. However, earthquake and civil defence experts in Italy said that it is not possible to predict the time and location of an earthquake with that –or any other – method.

Giuliani is quoted in many media reports as being a Gran Sasso staff member, but Caccia says this is not the case. “He is a technician in a collaboration with Gran Sasso which is based in Turin (in northern Italy) – and his work on earthquakes is a hobby, nothing to do with the research project here.” Caccia says the research centre has been a “bit embarrassed” by the media reports.

Alison Abbott

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    Francis Thovez said:

    EARTHQUAKE: AMBROSIO (INFN), GIULIANI IS CORRECT ON RADON GAS

    (AGI) – Rome, 6 Apr. – I know Giuliani well because I worked with him for years. Recently we exchanged data on a potential correlation between quakes and radon gas emissions. The Gran Sasso lab has a laser interferometer that registers rock movements because the lab is crossed by a seismic fault line: this is not a secret. Michelangelo Ambrosio, a research manager with Infn (the national institute of nuclear physics) wrote a letter to the ‘Giuseppe Dossetti’ association wherein he notes that “underestimating the application of new technologies simply because they are brought forward by researchers who are not part of the reigning establishment is an act of criminal negligence and today we are paying for its consequences”. In other words, he is confirming Giampaolo Giuliani’s theory for predicting earthquakes. He added that “The tragic sequence of events because of the earthquake in Abruzzo are drawing more attention to the words of scientists who study vulcanology such as Dr. Giuliani who is a technician and researcher with the Gran Sasso physics lab”. Therefore Giuliani’s theory is receiving the support of Ambrosio from the Naples section of Infn and on Corrado Stillo, head of the Observatory for the protection and development of the rights of the “Giuseppe Dossetti” association. Corrado Stillo says that “We are asking for a debate to be called as soon as possible to see why prediction studies carried out by Italian researchers on the potential prevention of earthquakes are not taken onto consideration. This is not time for controversy and it is the case that a country that has seismic problems like we have should assess predictions based on the emission of radon gas as happens in other countries such as Japan, where radon data has been collected and analysed by experts for years”.

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