French research minister shows X-ray vision over project approval

September 15, 2000

France is to go ahead with plans to build a third-generation synchrotron on its home ground. Research minister Roger-Gerard Schwartzenberg this week announced that the Soleil project, abandoned by his predecessor a year ago, will be constructed at Saclay in the Ile-de-France region.

Mr Schwartzenberg has reversed the decision taken by Claude All gre, who enraged the scientific community by announcing last August that he would not replace the ageing Lure (Laboratoire pour l'utilisation du rayonnement electromagnetic) synchrotron based at Orsay, but that France would instead contribute to Diamond, the British New Synchrotron Source (NSS) project.

Mr Schwartzenberg has spent five months consulting French and European scientific experts, regional authorities and potential foreign partners. He concluded that "the decision to construct a third-generation synchrotron in France was scientifically necessary and financially possible". It was needed for researchers in numerous fields, and for both basic and applied research, he said.

Many other countries were developing synchrotrons, including the United States, which has 11, and Japan, which has 16, he pointed out. Construction of the new X-ray source will start in autumn 2001. After completion of the first eight-year phase, the synchrotron will provide 24 beamlines, which can be increased to 40 in a second phase if needed.

As well as Lure, which is expected to continue functioning until 2003 or 2004, France is also home to the ESRF (European Synchrotron Radiation Facility) in Grenoble.

Mr Schwartzenberg said that Ile-de-France had been chosen for its accessibility to researchers from other areas, its industrial base; and its rich scientific and technological community, which includes several universities and grandes ecoles, research laboratories and Genopole, the national gene sequencing centre.

Regional and local authorities are contributing e182 million (Pounds 110 million) to the project, which it is estimated will cost e473 million during the first eight years.

The minister said that development of Soleil would strengthen European research cooperation with Britain and other countries. He hoped "to achieve a principle of reciprocity between British and French researchers, with France participating in the NSS project and the United Kingdom participating in the Soleil project".

Mr Schwarzenberg met UK research minister Lord Sainsbury in May for what were described as "fruitful discussions" about the NSS and the "possibility of the UK participating" in the French third-generation synchrotron. Talks are also taking place with Spain and Portugal over their eventual involvement.

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