Austria to quit CERN particle physics laboratory

Scientists look at a computer screen at the control centre of the CERN in Geneva September 10, 2008. REUTERS/Fabrice Coffrini/Pool

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria plans to pull out of the international particle physics laboratory CERN because its share of the high cost is eating up too much of the country’s budget for international research.

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) has created the biggest machine ever -- a particle collider under the French-Swiss border outside Geneva which aims to recreate the conditions of the “Big Bang,” the origin of the universe.

It has so far cost some 10 billion Swiss francs ($9 billion) to build, but had to be shut it down in September only nine days after starting up because of technical problems.

Austria has been a member of the 20-nation body since 1959, but plans to leave because membership ties up around 70 percent of its budget for funding such international research, Science Minister Johannes Hahn said late Thursday.

“In the meantime there have been diverse research projects in the European Union which offer a very large number of different scientists’ perspectives,” Hahn said in a statement.

Austria contributes 2.2 percent of CERN’s budget. It will be the first country to leave the organization since Spain’s departure in 1969. Spain rejoined in 1983.

“CERN would be sorry to lose Austria as one of its member states and sincerely believes that it would be in Austria’s best interests to remain a member,” the organization said in a statement.

The collider is expected to start running in September and to report results on the tiniest building blocks of matter in 2010.

Reporting by Sylvia Westall; editing by Jonathan Lynn