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The Diamond Light and Isis operations at Harwell threatened by Government cutbacks
SCIENTISTS are warning the Government that it would be a “ridiculous waste of taxpayers’ money” to axe science projects at Harwell that have cost millions to build.
Projects at risk include the £383m Diamond Light Source, which opened only three years ago, and the Isis neutron source, which recently had a £145m expansion.
Together they employ about 800 people.
Former Abingdon MP Dr Evan Harris, also a former Lib Dem science spokesman, and a sponsor of the Campaign for Science and Engineering (CaSE), said: “The Isis and Diamond synchrotrons have cost a fortune to build and it is totally irrational not to provide the smaller-scale recurrent funding needed to exploit that existing infrastructure.”
Imran Khan, director of CaSE said: “It would be a ridiculous waste of money if Diamond were to be mothballed — like building the Olympic stadium and then not using it.”
John Womersley, director of science programmes at the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), which allocates public spending in astronomy, particle and nuclear physics, and space science, said the Government’s 25 per cent cuts could only be achieved by mothballing a major facility.
The Government has asked departments to prepare plans for massive cuts at a spending review next month.
The STFC said it could be a choice between ending Britain’s involvement in international projects such as the Large Hadron Collider particle collider in Geneva, Cern, or axing one of the two Harwell projects.
Prof Womersley said: “At some funding level, between where we are now and having half as much money, we would no longer be able to operate both Isis and Diamond as big facilities in the UK. We would clearly regard leaving Cern as a serious step.”
He added: “We shouldn’t assume anything is off the table.”
Britain and other contributors to Cern want to cut the Large Hadron Collider budget by £215m, which could force its experiments to halt for a year in 2012.
Diamond and Isis, which cost £28m and £35m a year to run, are used by medical researchers and industrialists seeking new drugs or materials.
They have already spearheaded major breakthroughs, including a project by Milton Park drug discovery company Evotec.
Scientist Dr Myron Smith led a team which last year unravelled the structure of a protein called serine racemase, which could lead to a treatment for intractable pain or for schizophrenia.
A Department for Business, Innovation and Skills spokesman said it was “unhelpful to speculate on the spending review while the process continues”.
He added: “Public spending on science, just like everything else, has to stand up to rigorous economic scrutiny. In these austere times, the public should expect nothing less.”