Austria to stay in particle physics lab after all

A technician walks under the core magnet of the CMS (Compact Muon Solenoid) experiment at the European Organization for Nuclear Research CERN (Centre Europeen de Recherche Nucleaire) in the French village of Cessy, near Geneva March 22, 2007. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austria has changed its mind and will now not pull out of the international particle physics laboratory CERN over the cost, Chancellor Werner Faymann said in a statement on Monday, overruling his science minister.

The European Organisation 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.

“Austria has been a member of CERN for over 50 years -- a whole host of Austrian scientists are linked to CERN and will continue to do so in the future,” Faymann, a social democrat, said at a news conference with Science Minister Johannes Hahn.

Hahn, a conservative, had angered Austria’s scientific community earlier this month when he said CERN’s 20 million euro ($27 million) annual membership ate up too much of his international research budget, and that Austria planned to quit.

“CERN clash: government in a black hole” read a headline in popular daily Oesterreich, which pictured Faymann and Hahn plummeting spread-eagled through space.

The two men have to work together in Austria’s coalition government and the relationship between the parties is sometimes strained.

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

Austria, which contributes 2.2 percent of CERN’s budget. Hahn has said membership ties up around 70 percent of Austria’s budget for membership of such international research bodies.

Reporting by Sylvia Westall; Editing by Jon Boyle