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Select Committee on Science and Technology Eighth Report


7 UK facilities

Diamond

52. Diamond, the new synchrotron being built at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, is the largest scientific facility to be built in the UK in over 30 years. The facility is designed to provide UK scientists from a broad range of disciplines with access to an internationally competitive suite of analytical techniques and services for the next 20 years. It will replace the existing synchrotron radiation source (SRS) at Daresbury. The Government and the Wellcome Trust are funding Phase 1 of the facility at a cost of £250 million. Diamond is under the control of a separate company, Diamond Light Source Ltd (DLS) of which CCLRC is the majority shareholder (86%) on behalf of the UK Government. The Wellcome Trust holds the remaining shares (14%). DLS now employs 105 staff. This number is expected to rise to nearly 200 by the end of Phase 1 in December 2006. The CCLRC reports that the project continues to make good progress and is within budget.[106] We were assured that building work is on schedule to enable the facility to open in 2007.[107] Phase 2 of the project, consisting of another 14 beamlines, is due to be completed by 2011. Arrangements for access to Diamond are currently under consideration. The timescale, budget plan and project assurances for the construction are monitored regularly by the shareholders and by the Council of the CCLRC. An independent and international group is monitoring the management of the project and CCLRC management keep in close contact with OST on the development of the project. Professor Wood told us that, should costs escalate unexpectedly, there was the scope to make savings, by reducing the number of beamlines, for example.[108]

53. The union Prospect has told the Committee that, with the closure of the Darebury SRS, the lack of a public commitment to continue world class science activities in the north west is inhibiting engagement in the development of facilities there. It also expresses concern over the amount of overlap between the closure of the existing synchrotron radiation source and the start of Diamond in 2007. The scientific community, "almost unanimously" want the maximum period of overlap under consideration - 2 years - to be supported so as not to harm any areas of science.[109] This would also give the Daresbury Laboratory more security as its workforce is cut over the next few years.[110] Professor Wood told us that the future of the work force there was a "very high concern" and that he was seeking reassurances from the Science Minister that the 2004 Spending Review would provide for this length of overlap.[111] We look to the Science Minister to ensure that the scientific community experiences the minimum possible disruption in the period of transfer from the SRS to Diamond.

4GLS

54. Work on a three year R&D project to develop a prototype 4th Generation Light Source (4GLS) is underway at Daresbury. This facility, if developed, would help meet the needs of the section of the research community requiring lower energy synchrotron radiation. It would also place the UK at the forefront of synchrotron radiation science. It could also provide work for many of those currently working on SRS, although not necessarily under CCLRC auspices.[112] A decision on whether CCLRC will bid for this project, estimated to cost around £120 million, is not expected before 2006. The facility would not be operational until 2010.[113] So far, the CCLRC has provided £6 million and the OST £8 million towards the development of this project.[114] Professor Wood told us that if the project was developed successfully he believed that it should be at Daresbury.[115] The 4GLS project is one of eight high technology areas which are being reviewed at the Daresbury site. In developing future options, the CCLRC is working with the North West Development Agency.[116] The decision to build Diamond in Oxfordshire rather than Cheshire had important repercussions for the north west as a scientific hub. We believe that decisions on future large scale facilities should be made principally on the basis of scientific merit rather than geographical location. It is also important that, within this framework, every effort is made to ensure that existing scientific strongholds are not allowed to stagnate. We recommend that the CCLRC makes every effort to support the development of alternative projects which will provide employment for the skilled scientists in the northwest region and support the scientific profile of the northwest as a centre of scientific excellence.

European Spallation Source

55. In April 2003 the Government announced a £100m upgrade of the ISIS facility at RAL. This will fund the building of a second target station for the ISIS neutron source, which is due to be available by 2008. Lord Sainsbury said that this investment would "keep the UK at the forefront of neutron research for many years".[117] In spite of the prospect of this new development, the neutron scattering community is already looking further ahead to the next generation of facilities.

56. Options for the next generation of neutron source are currently being considered by the CCLRC with European partners, US and Japan. An American neutron source is not due to be operational until 2007, and European access to this facility is still under discussion. In Japan, a new neutron scattering facility is being planned, to be operational by 2010. In Europe, one option being considered is the development on a green field site of a European Spallation Source in Yorkshire, a project being promoted by the White Rose University Consortium.[118] We were told during our 2003 OST Scrutiny inquiry that at a meeting between Lord Sainsbury and the White Rose University Consortium in July 2003 "it was agreed that the UK would take a more pro-active role and lead the agenda in deciding on the timing/location of a next generation neutron source within Europe."[119] The Consortium reports in its evidence that in spite of these words, no real progress has been made since then. We understand that there has been one meeting on neutron materials but little else. The Consortium says that they have been "very dissatisfied" with CCLRC's involvement in this project.[120]

57. In evidence to us Professor Wood said that whilst the European Spallation Source proposed by the Consortium was a "credible machine alongside the American and Japanese machines. There are still a number of technical issues that we still have to overcome. I think in terms of its scope it is ill-defined."[121] He thought it premature to enter into a discussion on the potential site until more fundamental questions about the credibility and potential funding of such a facility were addressed.[122] We did not gain the impression that the CCLRC was working towards addressing these fundamental questions. Instead the CCLRC told us that it is leading a discussion in Europe on the development of the next generation neutron facility for Europe. It is planning to consult the UK research community over the next year before submitting advice to RCUK, OST and Ministers in the second half of 2005. Any bid for funding would then be made in the 2006 Spending Review.

58. We are not in a position to examine the merits of the proposed European Spallation Source. Our concern is that the development of any proposal carries the confidence of the UK user community, is transparent, and that the Government is providing appropriate support for any UK and European project. We have recommended before that the Government should be prepared to provide the political will and the funding necessary for the UK to host large scale facilities.[123] We believe that there are substantial direct benefits beyond the calculable economic ones from hosting large scale facilities, for the UK research community and, less tangibly, for the reputation of UK science as a whole. We are pleased that Professor Wood agrees with us: "we want to see world class facilities in the United Kingdom"[124] and note his concern that "we potentially seem to be slipping from the top level of the international slot because of our lack of international facilities."[125] He referred to benefits obtained by Grenoble having a number of world class facilities sited there and told us "What you must not have is lots of bits, you have to have a something of critical mass which is internationally leading."[126] We are concerned that the Government does not share this view of the value of hosting international facilities. Lord Sainsbury has previously expressed doubt to us about the wisdom of focussing on developing large scale centres.[127] We agree with Professor Wood on the importance of building on existing world class facilities to create scientific hubs of a calibre which can attract the world's best scientists and provide a focus for local high tech industry. Such an outlook does not necessarily rule out the development of new facilities on green field sites. Each case must be judged upon it merits.

59. The UK has a strong track record and much experience in providing neutron sources. It should look to build on this. The UK scientific community and the Government should be fully behind any competitive and viable bid to bring a European Spallation Source to the UK. In evidence, the CCLRC acknowledges that "better co-ordination of the next generation of large research facilities … is recognised as a key area" in which it can take a lead.[128] This applies to all facilities, not just those run by the CCLRC. At present, the CCLRC has not persuaded the scientific community that it is prepared to throw its weight behind any bid that does not have a strong CCLRC element. We do not believe that it is handling the development of the bid for a European Spallation Source very well. The transfer of the CCLRC's strategic advisory role to RCUK should improve the situation but, in the mean time, we recommend that the CCLRC works closely with the White Rose Consortium, European and other UK partners to help develop a viable UK proposal for hosting a European Spallation Source.

Neutrino factory

60. The consensus of the scientific community is that the study of matter and mass is best served by the establishment of a permanent source of neutrino beams or a neutrino factory. This would serve the interests of a wide range of scientific disciplines and branches, from nuclear physics to materials science and radiotherapy techniques. The cost of this facility has been estimated at $2,000 million.[129] Decisions on the building of a neutrino factory, including the location, are still some years away, but already thought is being given to the possibility of the UK proposing to host the facility. The UK is already in a strong position in that preparatory research and development is underway at RAL in the form of the Muon Ionisation Cooling Experiment (MICE). This international collaboration, including 150 physicists from Europe, Japan and the US is the largest such collaboration working in this area.[130] Construction of the facility is due to be complete in 2006. The presence of the Muon Ionisation Cooling Experiment at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory will give the UK a strong advantage when it comes to making proposals to develop and host the new neutrino facility. It should remain in the long term plans of the CCLRC.

Hosting facilities in the UK

61. We were pleased to learn that the Research Councils are now discussing with the Treasury future large scale facilities ten and fifteen years down the line,[131] although it was surprising to hear that Professor Wood had not yet ascertained from the Treasury the department's view on the importance of a high profile for UK science.[132] There is strong evidence that the Treasury is taking an increasingly close look at the economic benefits to be derived from UK science, including large scale facilities. Professor Wood said that "we are starting to get involved" in discussions on the Treasury's ten year science strategy. These discussions about the long term provision of large scale facilities should have taken place much earlier. Had they done so, the Treasury's ten year strategy for science and innovation might not have had to include as one of its 20 questions the invitation to comment on the optimal means of developing access to large scale facilities.[133] This is what the Research Councils and OST have been working on for many years in close contact with user communities. The Large Facilities Strategic Road Map already provides the strategic view for the next ten years and beyond. We cannot understand why the Treasury should seek to hijack this policy area.

62. Nonetheless, we welcome the fact that the Treasury is seeking to provide a long term framework for investment in science and innovation. The ten year science strategy represents a rare opportunity for the UK science community to secure a commitment to providing the long term funding necessary to support the development of a world class scientific facility in the UK. The Government is prepared to support the hosting sporting events in the UK, largely for reasons of national prestige and to prove that the UK is serious about sport. It should be prepared to do the same for large scale scientific facilities, which make a significant contribution to the UK economy and serve a huge user community in the UK and abroad, in some cases, for many decades. Professor Wood was hopeful that the new strategy would "see long-term investment plans and a desire for us to take our full place on the international stage in terms of large scale facilities."[134] We share his hope. We recognise that there is more work to be done on the development of a European Spallation Source and that a neutrino factory is still some way in the future. But political will is essential if the UK is to be a potential host. We recommend that the Ten Year Science Strategy gives a clear indication that Government will be prepared to support a suitable bid for a large scale facility in the UK.


106   Qs 85-6 Back

107   Ev 22;Q 85 Back

108   Q 87 Back

109   Q 92 Back

110   Ev 31 Back

111   Q 88 Back

112   Q94 Back

113   OST, Large Facilities Strategic Road Map, Chapter 3. Back

114   HC Deb, 4 May 2004, col 1401W Back

115   Q 95 Back

116   CCLRC, Strategic Plan 2003-08, p 27 Back

117   Research Fortnight, 30 April 2003 Back

118   The White Rose University Consortium is a strategic partnership of York, Sheffield and Leeds universities. Back

119   Fourth Report, Session 2003-04, Office of Science and Technology: Scrutiny Report 2003, HC 316, para 47 Back

120   Ev 21; see chapter 3 above for discussion of separation of roles. Back

121   Q 72 Back

122   Q 72 Back

123   First Report, Session 2002-03, The Work of the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council, HC 161, p 20; HC (2003-04) 316, p 33 Back

124   Q 3 Back

125   Q 59 Back

126   Q 60 Back

127   HC (2003-04) 56-II, Q 520; ev 75 Back

128   Ev 7 Back

129   Ev 54 Back

130   Ev 53 Back

131   Q 5 Back

132   Q 57 Back

133   HMT, DTI, DfES, Science and Innovation: working towards a ten-year investment framework, March 2004, p 47 Back

134   Q 7 Back


 
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Prepared 22 June 2004