Fermilab nervous about proposed cuts in current budget

Updated 2/18/2011 5:07 PM

Fermilab's employees are focusing on Washington legislators as well as atomic particles, as politicians hash out the 2011 federal budget.

Under a budget proposal made by House Republicans, Fermilab could lose as much as 20 percent of its funding for fiscal year 2011 -- which started Oct. 1, 2010 -- laboratory director Pier Oddone told employees in an "all-hands" meeting this week.


"This is impossible to accommodate without major, major disruptions" to the lab's work, he said. Accelerator operations would be stopped, employees would have to take two months of unpaid furlough, and about 400 would have to be laid off, to meet that budget, he said. "This would be a major blow not just to particle physics ... but to U.S. science overall."

Fermilab employs about 2,000 people, according to its website.

Oddone said he has spoken with Sen. Mark Kirk and 14th District Congressman Randy Hultgren, both Republicans, and that both seem to be supportive of the laboratory.

The House was expected to vote on a resolution for the 2011 budget Friday night. If it passed, the resolution would be considered by the Senate the week of Feb. 28.

The current continuing resolution, which allows the federal government to operate while a budget is being adopted, expires March 4.

The news came as Fermilab prepares to shut down the Tevatron accelerator, the lab's initial and largest device. It had hoped to keep the machine running a few more years, even though the larger, more powerful Large Hadron Collider is up and running in Europe, as physicists look for the Higgs-Boson, or "God particle." But the Department of Energy put the kibosh on that in January. The Tevatron will be shuttered in September.