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Tuesday, 14 March, 2000, 15:37 GMT
Science facility goes south
CCLRC
Artist's impression of the new site

The Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) in Oxfordshire has won the race to host one of the UK's biggest science projects.
With a single blow, the government has made the north-south divide wider than the Grand Canyon

Jim Cooper, IPMS Union

The Didcot research centre will be home to a 550m synchrotron radiation source, known as Diamond. It will be used to probe the fundamental structure of matter with X-rays.

The decision has come as a huge blow to the staff operating an existing synchrotron at Daresbury in Cheshire. They had hoped to persuade the government to give them the new generation machine.

Susan Smith, leader of the Diamond at Daresbury campaign, expressed her dismay over the decision.

"Not one bit of evidence in favour of Rutherford has ever been made public," she said. She warned that the low morale at Daresbury may now cause staff to leave the facility.

North-south divide

The IPMS union, which represents more than 270 of the 500 scientists and engineers at Daresbury, also accused the government of dramatically widening the north-south divide by its decision.
CCLRC
A synchrotron can build a picture of the internal structure of biological molecules
IPMS negotiator Jim Cooper said: "With a single blow the government has made the north-south divide wider than the Grand Canyon. Although the government is trying to put together a rescue plan to ensure Daresbury's short-term future, this is nothing more than a consolation prize."

Construction work on the new synchrotron will take about five years. It will operate for at least 20 years.

The Wellcome Trust will contribute about 100m of the total cost. There is also money from the French Government which recently cancelled its own next generation synchrotron project.

Workings of matter

The machine consists of a doughnut-shaped evacuated tube about 100 metres in diameter. It is surrounded by magnets that bend and focus a beam of electrons travelling at close to the speed of light.
You have ... stained indelibly Harold Wilson's memory by reversing the courageous decision he made in the 1960s to spread science throughout the country

E-mailer to No 10

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.

Package of support

Gordon Walker, chief operating officer of the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils (CLRC), which operates both the RAL and Daresbury, said of the new facility: "It is a great prize for the research scientists around the country who have been pressing the case for many years We will be working closely with them to ensure that their needs are met by the new source."
BBC
Campaigners at Daresbury say jobs will be lost

To lessen the impact of the decision on Daresbury, the government has announced a package of measures to support science at the Cheshire centre.

Synchrotron studies will continue there for at least two years after the new machine comes into operation. The government will invest 5m in four new beamlines.

A review team has also been set up to "consider options for capitalising on the strengths of the science base in the North West to ensure its continuing excellence, including potential future uses for the Daresbury Laboratory site and its assets."

The government has promised to provide at least 25m to fund the recommendations of the review team.

'Wrong decision'

Science minister Lord Sainsbury said that the government went for the RAL after careful analysis of scientific, technical, operational and financial issues and the views of the funding partners.

Daresbury supporters believe this included a threat from the Wellcome Trust to pull its funding if the synchrotron went anywhere other than Didcot.

Labour MP, Mike Hall, whose constituency includes Daresbury, said the battle was lost.

"There is still one question mark about whether the French will decide on Thursday to stay in this project and we await that announcement with some interest." Another local MP, Louise Hellman, said the decision was a blow to science in the North West. She said: "This is the wrong decision and I am angry and disappointed."

The decision has also provoked a furious response from e-mailers to the No 10 website forum. The users accused the government of running scared of the Wellcome Trust and the French Government.

"You have sold your soul for a pittance and stained indelibly Harold Wilson's memory by reversing the courageous decision he made in the 60s to spread science throughout the country," one individual said.

Others believed the government tried to hide the news by announcing it on the same day that a 530m aid package was given to the aerospace industry to build a new super jumbo jet.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Science minister Lord Sainsbury
"This is a huge project"
Mike Hall MP
The French and the Wellcome Trust insisted that the project went to the RAL
Professor Bob Cernik, Daresbury
The scientific case for Daresbury was compelling
Michel Bernier, French embassy
The French Government would not have been unhappy with Daresbury
See also:

29 Oct 99 | Science/Nature
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