Published September 29, 2008
HONOLULU – A federal judge in Hawaii has dismissed a lawsuit trying to stop the world's largest atom smasher.
U.S. District Court Judge Helen Gilmor ruled Friday that federal courts don't have jurisdiction over the Large Hadron Collider in Europe, near Geneva.
Two Hawaii residents sued because they feared that the machine could create small black holes or other phenomena that could destroy the planet.
Most physicists say the collider is safe. The collider started low-power operation on Sept. 10 but suffered malfunctions and will be shut down until spring while it's repaired.
Gilmor did not address whether the collider poses a danger to the Earth.
"It is clear that plaintiffs' action reflects disagreement among scientists about the possible ramifications of the operation of the Large Hadron Collider," Gilmor wrote. "This extremely complex debate is of concern to more than just physicists."
The collider is a 17-mile ring of superconducting magnets that will send high-energy beams of subatomic particles crashing into each other, fracturing atoms into more fundamental particles that can be observed and studied.
Scientists hope the machine will reveal how the tiniest particles were first created after the "big bang," which many theorize was the massive explosion that formed the stars, planets and everything.
The plaintiffs, retired nuclear safety officer Walter Wagner and Spanish science writer Luis Sancho, filed suit in March. They wanted collider operations to be suspended until more safety reviews could be conducted.
Gilmor said they failed to prove that U.S. support of the project is a "major federal action" under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The United States provided $531 million for the construction of the $5.84 billion collider — less than 10 percent of the total cost.
She said the proper venue to debate U.S. support of the program is in Congress, not the federal courts.