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Friday, 5 May, 2000, 17:12 GMT 18:12 UK
French to build their own synchrotron
Artist's impression of Diamond
France's new research minister has announced that his country will press ahead with its own third generation synchrotron after all.

Plans to build a new French machine capable of probing the fundamental structure of matter with X-rays were shelved last year and an agreement made with the UK to join its project, called Diamond.

The announcement by Monsieur Roger-Gerard Schwartzenberg to revive the French plans seemed at first to put a question mark against the Diamond arrangement, but both the French and British governments said on Friday that it would make no difference.

Monsieur Schwartzenberg and the UK science minister Lord Sainsbury met in Paris and agreed that moving ahead with both machines would be beneficial. They even raised the prospect of Britain joining with other European partners to help build and run the French synchrotron.

Extra demand

Monsieur Schwartzenberg explained the new thinking to French newspaper La Tribune.

"There is at present a major growth in demand for particle accelerators," he told the paper.

"The Swiss and the Italians have a synchrotron. Sweden has three, Germany has five, and the United States has 11. I tend to think that the Franco-British project will not be able to meet all our needs."

La Tribune said French scientists were demanding a 2.5 GeV (giga-electronvolt) facility. The total costs over the course of eight years, excluding salaries, have been estimated at 1.35bn francs (117m).

Although the design plans are well advanced, the location of the new research centre is still the subject of much debate with about 12 areas of France offering to host it.

Political row

The decision to site the new British machine at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) in Oxfordshire in Southern England led to a huge political row. Campaigners and politicians from the north of the country said it would have a detrimental effect on an existing synchrotron facility at Daresbury in Cheshire.

But despite heavy lobbying, the UK Government reaffirmed its decision which the Daresbury supporters said had been unduly influenced by the French Government and the other funding partner in the project, the Wellcome Trust.

The Diamond synchrotron will consist of a doughnut-shaped evacuated tube about 100 metres in diameter. It will be surrounded by magnets that bend and focus a beam of electrons travelling at close to the speed of light.

The X-rays it produces can penetrate deep into a material and reveal its structure. This information helps scientists to better understand the fundamental workings of matter and will aid them in the development of new drugs, new plastics and textiles, new detergents and new environmentally-friendly industrial processes.

Synchrotron X-rays can also be used to investigate the processes of ageing and disease, and to change the atomic structure of materials to engineer new properties.

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