Sense and sensitivity of double beta decay experiments
Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics
The search for neutrinoless double beta decay is a very active field in which the number of proposals for next-generation experiments has proliferated. In this paper we attempt to address both the sense and the sensitivity of such proposals. Sensitivity comes first, by means of proposing a simple and unambiguous statistical recipe to derive the sensitivity to a putative Majorana neutrino mass, m_bb. In order to make sense of how the different experimental approaches compare, we apply this
... to a selection of proposals, comparing the resulting sensitivities. We also propose a "physics-motivated range" (PMR) of the nuclear matrix elements as a unifying criterium between the different nuclear models. The expected performance of the proposals is parametrized in terms of only four numbers: energy resolution, background rate (per unit time, isotope mass and energy), detection efficiency, and bb isotope mass. For each proposal, both a reference and an optimistic scenario for the experimental performance are studied. In the reference scenario we find that all the proposals will be able to partially explore the degenerate spectrum, without fully covering it, although four of them (KamLAND-Zen, CUORE, NEXT and EXO) will approach the 50 meV boundary. In the optimistic scenario, we find that CUORE and the xenon-based proposals (KamLAND-Zen, EXO and NEXT) will explore a significant fraction of the inverse hierarchy, with NEXT covering it almost fully. For the long term future, we argue that Xe-based experiments may provide the best case for a 1-ton scale experiment, given the potentially very low backgrounds achievable and the expected scalability to large isotope masses.