Should CERN in Geneva shut down its particle accelerators?

At present, Europe is reaching significantly less natural gas than in previous years. Responsible for this is the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine. Gas is not only needed to heat homes and businesses, but also to generate electricity. This can create critical situations in winter. This applies not only to Germany but also to France and Switzerland. The responsible authorities there have therefore now received an emergency offer: If grid stability in the region is threatened, the CERN research center in Geneva offers to temporarily switch off its energy-intensive particle accelerators. In this way, energy consumption could be significantly reduced with a single measure. Because the peak demand of the research center is 200 megawatts. This corresponds to about a third of the energy needs of the whole of Geneva.

The shutdown is planned in a multi-stage process

A total of eight particle accelerators are in operation at CERN. Of these, the gigantic Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is certainly the best known. In the event of an emergency, a step-by-step plan should now come into effect. That is why the researchers need a lead time of one day and information about how much energy can be saved. Then the intention is to first remove the smaller particle accelerators from the grid. This could reduce energy needs by about a quarter. In even more serious situations, the LHC may also stop working. This would reduce energy consumption by another quarter. The problem: the superconducting magnets still have to be cooled because otherwise they cannot be put back into operation quickly. This means that slightly more energy could only be saved in an absolute emergency. But then the LHC would certainly no longer be operational for a few weeks.

The schedule at the LHC is tight

In principle, this is a voluntary offer from the Research Centre. However, it is not the first time that the researchers have taken the situation on the general energy market into account. In any case, the LHC will only run from May to December to somewhat avoid the warm-up phase. However, this also means that the system is in high demand in the usable time and is largely fully booked. Especially since the giant particle accelerator was only put back into service in July this year after a three-year hiatus. Shutdowns forced by the energy crisis would disrupt these plans enormously, without many alternative data being conceivable. However, in case of an emergency, this should be accepted. By working on the Large Hadron Collider, the researchers hope to gain new insights into the origin of our universe, among other things.