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Budget crunch could prematurely shutter Tevatron

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FNAL Tevatron, aerial viewIt has been a rough 2011 for the physicists working on the Tevatron, the top particle collider in the U.S. and the second most powerful in the world after Europe's Large Hadron Collider. On January 10, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, which operates the Tevatron, announced that the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) had denied a proposed three-year extension of the collider. The particle physics giant, then, would be retired in the fall of 2011.


Now things are looking even bleaker for Fermilab and the Tevatron. The Fermilab Neighborhood blog reports that lab director Pier Oddone said at an all-hands meeting February 15 that budget cuts proposed in the House of Representatives would force a number of drastic measures at Fermilab. Among them: an immediate shutdown of all accelerators, two-month staff furloughs, and probable layoffs of some 400 employees. (A PowerPoint of Oddone's talk is available here.)


The budget bill, HR 1, which was introduced by the House Appropriations Committee February 11, contains more than $100 billion in total cuts from the budget request for 2011 that President Obama submitted over a year ago. Of those cuts, more than $1.1 billion comes from the DoE science budget, a roughly 20 percent reduction from 2010 levels.


The budget submitted by the Obama administration, on the other hand, would increase the DoE science budget by 4.4 percent, an outlay that would likely allow the Tevatron to run until September as planned.


The government is now well into the 2011 fiscal year, which began October 1, 2010, without a budget in place; agencies have been operating on a series of extensions that funded them at 2010 levels. (The latest extension expires March 4.) So whatever cost-cutting measures are enacted in the final budget bill will have roughly double the effect. If Fermilab, for instance, has to cut 20 percent of its annual budget with only six or seven months' notice, the lab will have to slash its expenditures by 35 to 40 percent over the remainder of the year to meet that target.


Photo and diagram of Tevatron: Fermilab

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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