A federal judge has tossed out a case challenging the operation of the world's biggest particle accelerator—not that the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is running, anyway.
Judge Helen Gillmor of the U.S. District Court in Hawaii dismissed the lawsuit Friday, saying the American judicial system has no jurisdiction over the $8-billion LHC, which is housed in a circular tunnel straddling the Swiss-French border. The New York Times is reporting on the dismissal today.
The suit was filed by a retired radiation safety officer, Walter Wagner, and Spanish science writer Luis Sancho, MSNBC's Cosmic Log has previously noted. The two claimed that the operator of the LHC, the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), and its backers failed to show that smashing protons at nearly the speed of light wouldn't produce mini black holes that could obliterate Earth.
Sancho, for his part, isn't entirely disappointed in the ruling. "The lawsuit was an unbelievable success in that it put the collider issue on the intellectual agenda," he told the Times, adding that it pressured CERN to conduct a safety study it wouldn’t have done otherwise. "The study was not perfect, but at least the safety factors on which CERN is relying are not quite as bad," Sancho said.
A spokesman for CERN, James Gillies, says Sancho's characterization of its safety research is "absolute nonsense." The agency conducted two formal reviews in 2003 and 2007, before the suit was filed in March.
"We were not pressured into doing that," Gillies says. "Safety review is part of our routine activities and predates the court case by some way. We said all along there was no scientific basis for the case and we're glad the court in Hawaii sees it that way."
Physicists and engineers plan to use the LHC to learn more about conditions that preceded the formation of the universe. But the machine had been running for only two weeks after its September 10 launch when CERN announced it would be shut down for repairs and a scheduled winter maintenance that will put it out of commission until at least spring.
To learn more about the LHC, take a look at our in-depth report.
(Image of LHC Atlas beampipe/CERN)