CERN dismisses European lawsuit claims over physics experiment


by Malcolm Curtis
Swisster.ch 
 | August 29, 2008 | 11:13
 |

A group of scientists files a lawsuit with the European Court of Human Rights alleging dire safety threats from CERN’s project to replicate conditions from the ‘Big Bang’ origins of the universe. A spokesman from the particle physics lab in Geneva dismisses the claims, which come as the research organization is set to smash sub-atomic particles together in the world’s most powerful accelerator.

An official from CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, today dismissed more claims by scientists that its “big bang” physics experiment poses grave safety risks by threatening black holes that could swallow up the earth. A group of scientists, largely from Austria and Germany, this week filed a suit in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg against the 26 member states that fund CERN, located on the Geneva-France border.

The group claims the experiment – set to begin on September 10 with the beaming of particles through an accelerator known as the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) – could be a pollution hazard and might destroy CERN’s installations. But James Gillies, a spokesman for the organization, told Swisster “there is nothing new in these arguments . . . the LHC is perfectly safe.”

He likened the risks to being no different than naturally occurring cosmic rays from outer space. 

Gillies said numerous reports have addressed the issues raised by the scientists, whose expertise in the subject is “questionable” because they are not directly involved in the type of research being undertaken by CERN.

The research organization is continuing with its experiment, which has so far cost more than 10 billion francs with a budget of more than a billion a year. The experiment seeks to explore the mysteries of the universe by accelerating sub-atomic particles, directed through beams, around a 26-kilometre underground tube and colliding them in a bid to recreate the conditions that scientists believe followed the explosive creation of the universe and planet Earth.

The process is a complicated one. To create the needed conditions the tube has been supercooled to minus 271 degrees and the beams are focused with the aid of 1,600 superconducting magnets.

The project has already been delayed through technical holdups, including one accident that involved no injuries. But CERN, after its latest successful test earlier this week, said it is now on track for circulating its first beam, seven times more energetic than any other previous particle accelerator, in the LHC on September 10 and ultimately with 30 times more energy than ever.

After becoming operational, Gillies said he expects it will run for 15 to 20 years.

 Will the case filed with the human rights court affect the schedule?

Gillies said CERN is overseen by its member countries in its governing council. In June, the board accepted reports that debunked similar arguments of the alleged risk of the LHC project by two other scientists.

Walter Wagner and Luis Sancho earlier filed a case in a US court in Hawaii against CERN and Fermilab, the operator of an American particle accelerator. That case is scheduled to start next Tuesday.

Parts of the particle accelerator run beneath homes and buildings in the canton of Geneva and the neighboring French border region. People living in those areas should not be worried, said Gillies, who noted that CERN held an open house in April, attended by 70,000, to reassure doubters and inform the public about all aspects of the project.

He said the experiment will create radioactive substances with a life span ranging from a few hours to a few years, but these will be sealed underground. Gillies noted that CERN has provided detailed analysis and information about safety and environmental aspects of the project on its website. This includes responses from the organization’s scientists.

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About Malcolm Curtis

Freelance English-language communications professional (writing, editing, translations) based near Geneva, Switzerland. Let me know if I can help you.
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