Suit to Halt Big Collider in Europe Is Dismissed
A federal judge in Honolulu has dismissed a lawsuit trying to stop the running of a giant particle accelerator outside Geneva, dodging the issue of whether it could actually cause the end of the world.
The judge, Helen Gillmor, said in her ruling Friday that the court lacked jurisdiction over the Large Hadron Collider, which is located on the Swiss-French border and was built by CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, with help from the United States and dozens of other countries.
When it is operating at full steam, the collider, which started circulating protons earlier this month before a series of mishaps shut it down for the winter, will accelerate protons to energies of seven trillion electron volts and slam them together in search of particles and forces not seen since the early moments of the Big Bang.
Last spring, Walter Wagner, a retired radiation safety officer who lives in Hawaii, and Luis Sancho, a science writer and professor in Barcelona, filed the lawsuit, claiming that the collider could produce a black hole that could eat the Earth or cause some other calamitous effect. Predictions of such outcomes have been refuted in safety studies.
This summer, for example, a report by a panel of physicists appointed by CERN concluded that the collider would not produce anything that billions of years of high-energy cosmic collisions had not produced.
Mr. Wagner and Mr. Sancho sued CERN, the United States Department of Energy, the National Science Foundation and the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Federal District Court in Hawaii. The Energy Department and the science foundation have contributed about $531 million of the collider’s estimated cost of $8 billion.
Judge Gillmor decided that the fraction paid by the United States was too small for the collider to constitute a “major federal action,” as defined by the National Environmental Policy Act, and so the court lacked jurisdiction on environmental grounds.
In an e-mail message, Mr. Sancho said, “The lawsuit was an unbelievable success in that it put the collider issue on the intellectual agenda.” Mr. Sancho also said that the most recent and thorough safety report would not have been done without their pressure. “The study was not perfect, but at least the safety factors on which CERN is relying are not quite as bad,” he said.
Judge Gillmor said the claim of planetary apocalypse was “a complex debate” of concern to more than just physicists. Noting that Congress had approved the money for the collider, she suggested that arguments about its effects would be more appropriately aired in a political arena than in a judicial one.
“Neither the language nor the history of NEPA,” she wrote, referring to the National Environmental Policy Act, “suggest that it was intended to give citizens a general opportunity to air their policy objections to proposed federal actions.”