Large Hadron Collider? Our priorities are way off!

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While it is exciting to watch the stories breaking today about the successful startup of the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, I have to wonder about the price tag.

The total cost of the LHC is estimated at between €3.2 to €6.4 billion and while that is a wide margin, even if it is closer to the €3.2 billion mark that is still a huge amount of money to spend trying to confirm “the predictions and missing links in the Standard Model of physics”. And that is just the financial cost – the amount of CO2 put into the atmosphere by its build and operation must be staggering.

I would far prefer to see all this money and effort being channelled into renewable research. Imagine how much more advanced wind, solar and wave/tidal energies could be now if scientists had €4b of research grants to work with.

I’m a scientist by training and I don’t for a second underestimate the benefits to mankind of being able to explain how elementary particles acquire properties such as mass but I do think that with our polar ice caps melting and small island nations becoming submerged, our priorities on this one are a little mixed up.


  1. says

    I remember a similar argument was made when the Dublin Spire went up. People struggled to justify it’s cost. Why spend so much on something so insignificant?

    A total of €4m of the public’s money was used to build it. Money that should probably have been spent on something more worthwhile like helping the homeless, or improving the health system.

    But at the end of the day both the Spire and the LHC appeal to two non-rational parts of the human psyche. Art and Purpose. Is art worth spending money on? That’s a matter of opinion. Is it worth spending billions of euro to find out why we’re all here? Isn’t that also a matter of opinion, but one that most of us have a real hankering to find out?

  2. says

    To be honest Iarfhlaith, I don’t have any problem spending €3 billion on LHCs, what I do object to is €3 billion on LHCs and virtually €0 on renewable research.

    Where is the renewable energy equivalent of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN)? Why is this not being treated with as much urgency? It is far more important.

  3. says

    $3-6 billion sounds like a bargain to me for unlocking the next step in our understanding of the universe, with all of the possibilities that it could provide.

    $439.3 billion on the US military in 2007 is less of a bargain.

  4. says

    I haven’t seen a scientific endeavor capture the public’s imagination like the LHC has done in many, many years. If 1 in 100 kids sees it and is inspired to enter the world of science then it is worth it. One of those kids could be the one who finds the next cheap, impact-free renewable energy.

    If we question the LHC then we must question many other things first. The LHC would be way down on the list of potential money misspent.

    (Absolutely agree that we need a CERN for renewable energy and similar, if not more, amounts of money pumped into the area. The money is there, we don’t need to take away from the LHC to give to polar bears.)

  5. says

    @Tom – I agree absolutely that ¢439 billion is an immoral amount to spend (most of which went on an effort to secure America’s oil supply and we can see how well that panned out!) – I’d much prefer to have seen the Bush administration invest that in securing America’s energy supply by developing domestic renewables. No argument from me there.

    @Paul – I think you do the renewables industry a disservice by dismissively referring to it as polar bears.

  6. says

    @Tom I think you do polar bears a disservice by reducing them and all they represent to a human industry 😉

    I’m not dismissive. Polar bears are the best emotional imagery the renewable industry can use. It isn’t the ice caps that are melting because of kiwis flown in from New Zealand. It is the polar bear cub’s home that is being destroyed by those kiwis.

    Money to save the polar bears and in the process the eco-system they stand atop.

    The LHC got funded by appealing to our desire for understanding. It played a bit on “the meaning of life” which is inaccurate (meaning and foundation are different) but it worked. Renewables could learn from that. Fear seems to be the renewable industries main weapon at the moment and I don’t think it is a good weapon. Inspire people, don’t beat them down.

  7. says

    We estimate (with galactic-sized error bars) that the construction footprint may have been between 3m and 20m tonnes of CO2.

    We’re interested in the amount of energy required to cool everything to an amazing 1.8 Kelvin (-271.4°C)…

  8. says

    There’ll always be someone ready to highlight that too much money has been spent on the wrong things. The wrong thing being something that’s purely commercially driven with no regard for the environment, and the right thing being a more altruistic and environmentally friendly project.

    It seems pretty obvious to me that if the renewable energy market became as commercially attractive as the ‘bad’ or ‘evil’ markets then powerful people would take notice and invest.

    Maybe the renewable energy industry needs to become more evil for it to take off. Don’t nice guys finish last after all?

  9. Anderson Wards says

    LHC could potentially open up a new era in energy production that doesn’t require the large amounts of CO2 that are used for every known “green energy” we have today. So you could look at the money spent on LHC as research into matter which could in the future be used for a true green energy.

    You could have also argued that setting up a date centre in Cork was a waste of money, money that could have been invested in some form of energy research in CIT or Cork University 🙂 That would have made me happy and extended my research thesis.

    I think in 60 years time we will have an energy equivalent to CERN, its taken that amount of time for CERN to get to where it is today and to get it’s huge budget.

  10. says

    I expected someone to get to the US military budget. thanks, I’ll leave that one along. Most advanced science is hard to rationalize against in-your-face needs, whether it is renewable energy, educating the children of the world, curing diseases, or feeding the hungry. So let’s look very sci-fi for a moment. What if the LHC leads to a better understanding of worm holes and eventually to creating stable worm holes. There could come a time when you can walk through a door in London and arrive in New York. That would cut way down on all that air travel we talked about last week. In this potentially real future, the LHC would be credited to helping the environment by eliminating airplanes.

  11. says

    I was unsurprised that someone brought up the U.S. military budget, which is horribly bloated, and was half hoping that someone would have looked up the figures for spending (e.g.) on ringtones. My point: we waste a lot of money on a lot of things.

    Given the affluence of the developed world, we ought to have plenty of money for the LHC, for renewables research, for aggressive promotion of energy efficiency to industry, with plenty left over to combat AIDS, malaria, TB, etc.

    Here’s the operative question, to my mind: what do we do to muster the political (and corporate etc.) *will* to spend our money this way?

  12. says


    I’m rather surprised seeing the other commenters not feeling the same way as you do, which I find a pity. I find it laudable that you are showing people that every medal has its reverse. As mentioned in this blog I fully support your view on this LHC project.


  13. Scott Elford says

    What a waste of money! Who could ever allow this when there is poverty and water quality issues all over the world! Things like this, space exploration, and building huge money wasters like the Burj Dubai need to be halted until we can figure out about our own future on the planet. Not only is our money and resources being wasted on these projects, but also our most brilliant minds! There is way to many issues on earth that need to be dealt with (poverty, water quality, population, climate change, alternative energy) before we go forward with these unnecessary projects of interest.

  14. seyoum says

    This is nothing but some nutty physicists childhood fantasy. It has no apparent real life application. The actual cost is $8 billion. The money would have have been well spent if it was put in to life science, medical, or engineering research. I strongly believe every scientist should be given the opportunity to pursue their curiosity, but priority should be given to those who can provide tangible result for the well-being and advancement of mankind