Hungary, Czechs, Romania to host laser project

SZEGED, Hungary (Reuters) - Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania will host a 500-million-euro ($728.5 million) pioneering laser facility with a wide range of advanced scientific applications, Hungary said Thursday.

European Union authorities have awarded the project, called the Extreme Light Infrastructure (ELI), jointly to the three former communist bloc members, Hungary’s Prime Minister Gordon Bajnai told a news conference.

Scientists at the center will conduct research in nuclear physics, astrophysics, cosmology, high-energy physics, as well as areas like cancer research, said Gabor Szabo, the lead scientist on Hungary’s bid to host the project.

The southern Hungarian university city of Szeged will host part of the project, amounting to 40 percent of the total investment, which will mostly be paid for through Hungary’s EU structural funds.

Construction and the bulk of the financial investment are slated to start in 2011. Once completed in 2015, the facility will employ 300 researchers and another 600 support staff.

The host countries are struggling with deep recession but Bajnai said Hungary could afford the project.

“We have the money for this. The expensive part will be built after 2011, which does not coincide with the budgets of the current difficult (fiscal) period,” said.

Reporting by Marton Dunai; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton