Safety first

I agree with Anthony Oliver that the benefits of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider project do not seem to justify the enormous costs


I agree with Anthony Oliver (Letters, 2 June) that the benefits of CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) project do not seem to justify the enormous costs.

Although your original article ‘Bottling the big bang’ (Feature, 19 May) was a very good read I feel you could have mentioned that there is concern about the safety of the whole project from a number of scientists who understand some of the complex science involved.

They have filed a complaint against the US Department of Energy and others in a court in Hawaii asking for a Temporary Restraining Order until a proper Risk Assessment has been carried out.

The risks they are concerned about are not just risks to the people working at the site, but to all of us.

It may sound like science fiction at first, but it is actually admitted that the LHC could produce a large number of ‘mini black holes’. CERN believes these will all ‘evaporate’ before they can grow to a dangerous size. But nobody, as far as I am aware, has yet found evidence of a black hole evaporating; it is based on mathematical calculations, which not all physicists accept.

Other possible dangers include the production of ‘strangelets’ that could convert everything to dark matter. Either of these possibilities could lead to the total destruction of the planet.

Another discussion is that, as the experiment is attempting to reproduce the conditions that have not occurred since a tiny fraction of a second after the Big Bang, there could be a ‘mini Big Bang’ in the form of a Type 1a Supernova that would destroy the whole solar system and some of the neighbouring stars as well.

I deal with health and safety at work and regularly carry out risk assessments. I don’t need advanced mathematical calculations to know that if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. I would need a lot of convincing that this would not apply to a project in which the severity of the risks so overwhelm even the most remote likelihood of any of them occurring.

The project has many unknowns, as most experiments carried out for the first time inevitably do, but surely further research using more conventional methods such as astronomy and experiments with existing small colliders would give some answers. It may perhaps take longer, but apart from satisfying scientific curiosity and helping the career of any scientist that makes a new discovery, the LHC project has no obvious benefit to society.

Rod Skinner, by email