Dexter denies bias over X-ray site

October 22, 1999

Wellcome Trust director Michael Dexter has sought to assure employees at Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire of the charity's impartiality over the location of the United Kingdom's new Pounds 200 million X-ray source.

Last week angry trade unions at Daresbury, which until early this year, had been expected to host the source, claimed the trust was using its Pounds 110 million grant towards the facility as a lever to get the government to locate the source at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory (RAL) near Oxford.

In a letter to Mike Hall, Labour MP for Weaver Vale, which includes Daresbury, Dr Dexter said the Department of Trade and Industry will soon announce a decision on the site.

He said: "I would like to assure you that the Wellcome Trust is simply concerned to see the selection of a site which best reflects the scientific needs of the United Kingdom's biomedical research community."

A union spokesman at Daresbury said he was "delighted" to learn that Wellcome had said this. He said: "Daresbury Laboratory has already established a strong base for the biomedical community, and we look forward to working with Wellcome in making the Northwest a major biocluster for the UK. As there is no biomedical research at Rutherford, Dr Dexter's selection criterion must mean that locating the source at Daresbury is the best solution on scientific grounds."

Leading scientists continue to come out in favour of Daresbury. Nobel prizewinner Sir Harry Kroto has written to science minister Lord Sainsbury arguing that there is little scientific benefit from co-locating Daresbury's design for the source, called Diamond, with RAL's neutron source, Isis.

While the X-ray source is used by both physical and life science researchers, the neutron source is largely of use only to physical scientists. The UK's existing X-ray source was established at Daresbury 20 years ago, and Sir Harry says there is more merit in having the new source located with the current facility so that minimum disruption to existing research programmes occurs.

In his letter to Lord Sainsbury Sir Harry also said: "... the UK needs cutting-edge laboratories like Daresbury to be distributed throughout the country and not just located in the south."

Watson Fuller, professor of physics at Keele University, who chaired a panel at an Office of Science and Technology/Wellcome Trust meeting on the source, has warned trade and industry ministers that locating the new source at RAL "would in no way compensate for what will certainly be very damaging consequences for UK science".

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