Plea for French-built synchrotron

March 31, 2000

France should develop a new-generation synchrotron on its own territory, a parliamentary committee has unanimously concluded, flatly contradicting former research minister Claude All gre's decision to abandon the French Soleil project in favour of collaboration with - and in - Britain.

RPR (conservative) senator Rene Tregou t and Communist MP Christian Cuvilliez last week presented their report on conditions for constructing a new synchrotron. A working group of ten eminent scientists interviewed some 40 French and foreign experts and visited synchrotron sites in France, Britain and Germany.

France has two sites - the ageing Lure (Laboratoire pour l'utilisation du rayonnement electromagnetic) at Orsay, used by nearly 2,000 researchers a year, and a share in the multinational ESRF (European Synchrotron Radiation Facility) at Grenoble.

Mr All gre announced last August that he would not replace Lure, but France would instead contribute to Britain's Diamond project. He said his decision was based on the need for European scientific cooperation as well as financial reasons.

Protesting scientists and researchers have since been united in fury that the 106m diameter ring third-generation synchrotron Soleil would not be built in France.

The all-party parliamentary science and technology office unanimously approved the report, which rejected the minister's arguments regarding costs, scientific needs and European cooperation. Its uncompromising conclusions present an embarrassing setback for Mr All gre.

"The immediate construction in France of a national source of synchrotron radiation is imperative for the scientific, educational and industrial momentum of our country," it said. Sharing Diamond and renting lines from other European facilities would cost more than building a national synchrotron; and the strategy would not be compatible with training young researchers, or with the needs of industry or those of national security - use by the atomic energy authority, for example.

Presenting the findings last week, Mr Tregou t also touched on national sensitivities: "When we asked British researchers whether they would consider working in France if the situation were reversed, they all said no."

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