PARIS--Scientists in France are reeling from the news that one of the country's largest research institutions, the Commission for Atomic Energy (CEA), intends to pull out of two major physics facilities: the Soleil synchrotron now under construction and the venerable Orphée neutron reactor. The pending cuts are the result of severe belt-tightening at CEA, which also plans to trim its scientific staff over the next several years. The proposed cuts are more drastic than expected, says Pierre Monceau, director of the CEA-funded Léon Brillouin neutron research facility in Saclay. "Some research may have to simply stop," he says.
CEA's woes began earlier this year, when the government announced that it would cut research funding across the board by more than 9% in 2003. Alain Bugat, who was appointed CEA director last January, says that the previous CEA management had failed to come to terms with the commission's financial predicament: It had long been clear, he claims, that there were insufficient resources to cover CEA's ambitious slate of research programs.
CEA's new financial plan, details of which were first reported in the newspaper Libération, calls for cutting €1.4 billion from the commission's €18.3 billion civil budget for 2004 to 2012 period. One high-profile casualty is the Soleil synchrotron, a third-generation synchrotron in Saclay that is intended to serve everyone from structural biologists to materials scientists. Bugat says that CEA will not pay its share of operating costs of the €385 million facility, due to come online for some experiments as early as 2006. That will force Soleil managers to find other sponsors to plug the gap.
Another victim is the Orphée neutron reactor, also in Saclay. CEA plans to zero out the $7 million a year it spends on the 21-year-old facility, which is used by physicists, nuclear chemists, and some biologists. Orphée will be closed in 2006 unless a new source of financing is found, says Bugat. CEA also plans to eliminate 40 positions and freeze hiring in nuclear and particle physics and astrophysics over the next 2 years.