An advisory committee for the U.S. Department of Energy has formally recommended building a $750 million collider to study basic matter, setting the stage for a competition to host the project between Brookhaven National Laboratory and a facility in Virginia.

The recommendation, released Thursday by the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee, is the first step in what is likely to be a yearslong process leading up to construction of an electron-ion collider.

The committee did not suggest a definitive timeline, saying only that the building project should be the Energy Department's "highest priority" after it completes a $730 million accelerator under construction in Michigan.

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"This is a little ways out, but it is nevertheless identified as a priority," said Timothy J. Hallman, associate director for nuclear physics for the Energy Department's science office.

The committee also refrained from suggesting whether the collider should be built at Brookhaven or the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility in Newport News, Virginia.

Brookhaven already has an ion collider, which accelerates particles around two overlapping rings. If chosen for the new project, the lab would reconfigure one of the existing rings for electrons.

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Jefferson Lab, meanwhile, already has an electron accelerator. If chosen, that lab would need to add a ring for ions.

Brookhaven's director, Doon Gibbs, has said little publicly about where the facility should be built. In a statement applauding the committee's report, Gibbs said he looked forward to working with the Energy Department to implement the recommendations.

Elected officials, however, have been lobbying for months. Last year Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe pledged $4.2 million for the project to be built at Jefferson Lab. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, in turn, pledged $25 million to help bring it to Brookhaven.