Many physicists around the world must be breathing a sigh of relief, as officials at the European particle physics laboratory, CERN, today released a revised budget for the next 5 years that trims spending by about 6%, but does not cancel any projects. The facility near Geneva, Switzerland, houses the world’s largest atom smasher—the 27-kilometer-long, subterranean Large Hadron Collider (LHC)—and has an annual budget of just under $1 billion that was supposed to increase with inflation. But the world’s financial woes have hurt the nations that pay CERN’s bills and they’ve been pressuring the lab to trim its costs. CERN officials now say that they can save about $340 million from 2011 through 2015 by delaying upgrades to current machines and research and development for future ones. Officials do not plan to lay off any of CERN’s 2250 staff members.
The new plan “protects the current research program and also makes a commitment to the future by not cancelling anything, but simply slowing down longer-term projects,” says CERN spokesperson James Gillies. The scheme comes in response to a request in June from the lab’s finance committee, which comprises representatives from funding agencies in the 20 European nations that support CERN, to find ways to cut costs.
Broadly speaking, lab officials identified three ways to pinch pennies, as CERN Director General Rolf Heuer explained in a memo to CERN users  today. First, CERN will slow down planned upgrades or replacements to the various accelerators that feed particles into the LHC, which is now smashing protons together at unprecedented energies. For example, one new accelerator known as Linac4 would come on line in 2016 instead of 2015. Improvements in LHC’s feeder accelerators are necessary steps toward an upgrade in the intensity of its beams, originally planned for 2015.
Second, in 2012 officials will shut down all of the labs eight accelerators for the entire year as they make repairs to unreliable electrical connections  in the LHC, which are currently limiting it to run at half its design energy. In addition to feeding the LHC, those accelerators normally feed other experiments. So for that year, CERN will not send a beam of neutrinos to an underground experiment at Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy or provide beams for anti-hydrogen experiments and nuclear physics research on its Geneva campus.
Finally, CERN would spend less on research and development for a future machine, called the Compact Linear Collider (CLIC), intended to explore in greater detail the new particles spotted by the LHC. CERN is spending about $20 million this year on CLIC, and that amount was supposed to ramp up to $60 million by 2015, explains CERN’s Jean-Pierre Delahaye, who works on the project. Now, spending on CLIC R&D will level off once it reaches $30 million in a couple of years. “The good news is that the resources for CLIC are still increasing,” Delahaye says. The CLIC team still plans to complete a so-called conceptual design report for CLIC next year, although it will have to scale back the scope of a more-detailed technical design report scheduled for 2017, Delahaye says.
In fact, the pain of the various proposed delays may be ameliorated in large measure by delays already incurred by the LHC. That machine was supposed to start taking data in 2008, but it suffered a catastrophic breakdown just 9 days after researchers first circulated particles through it in September 2008. So the LHC began taking data only in late March this year, leaving it 18 months behind schedule. (At one time, CERN aimed to start the LHC in 2005.) So there is more time to upgrade CERN’s smaller accelerators and to plan for whatever machine might come after the LHC. The new plan “is consistent with [the delays to] the LHC,” Delahaye says.
Gillies says the finance committee has embraced CERN's proposed cost-saving measures. The plan must still be approved by CERN’s governing council, which also comprises representatives of its member nations and next meets in September.