Giving up on CERN membership will cost economy, say scientists

Giving up on CERN membership will cost economy, say scientists

The God Particle (Photo: AP, Martial Trezzini)

November 26, 2012, Monday/ 16:28:00

Turkey has likely given up on its commitment to gaining full membership in Europe's celebrated atom-smashers the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), which is likely to translate to a loss for Turkish companies, scientists have warned the government.

CERN is the biggest particle physics laboratory in the world. Turkey, which has been negotiating with CERN for full membership for some years, has abandoned this ambition, according to a report that appeared in the Radikal daily on Monday. The Turkish Atomic Energy Agency (TAEK) did not respond to a query about whether the news was true, but scientists at Turkish universities, who were also not officially informed of the developments, said their peers at CERN have confirmed that Turkey announced in a recent letter that it is likely to only become an associate member, a status which costs less but also falls short of the advantages of full membership.

Thirty-one physicists, alarmed by the unofficially confirmed announcement about Turkey abandoning full membership at CERN, have written a letter to the prime minister, stating that associate partnership -- Turkey's choice -- is a positive step but full membership is a must for any country that wants to improve its industry, have a technologically leading private sector and create employment. Radikal reported that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has forwarded the letter to TAEK.

Erkcan Özcan, an associate professor of physics at Boğaziçi University, told Today's Zaman that four other countries that were in the process of becoming full members have either completed or are nearing the completion of their membership procedures, but Turkey has withdrawn its application.

Özcan said that not being a full member will not directly influence particle physicists' research in the area, adding: “There won't be any major changes to the contribution of Turkish physicists in particle physics. But technologically, there will be consequences. Turkish companies could have competed in CERN tenders, they could have become marketable and sellable in the world. [By abandoning full membership] you are greatly reducing this chance.” He said the technology transfer for full members of CERN to national companies was very fast, with companies being able to use many new technologies without acquiring licenses. He said CERN tended to make those areas where its full members are interested in the priority areas of research, another loss Turkey would suffer from if it steps away from full membership.

Reports say Turkey would pay $70 million annually for CERN membership. Özcan explained that countries' contributions to CERN are based on pre-established criteria tied to the national income of each member and there is usually little room for further negotiations on the membership fee. Reports said that TAEK thinks that for Turkey, which has allocated TL 400 million for 100 different branches of science, $70 million for particle physics alone is too much. TAEK also believes that since Turkey is not particularly developed in terms of its infrastructure and workforce for particle physics, the returns on its contribution will be too low. Other state agencies, such as the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TÜBİTAK), also reportedly support this view.

Turkish scientists also complain that over the past few months they have been left in the dark about the latest decision to repeal Turkey's full membership application, accusing TAEK of not being transparent or cooperative. Issues such as whether there are any plans to invest in projects as an alternative to CERN membership have also not been discussed with the relevant parties.

“We are finding it hard to even get information from our contacts at the Foreign Ministry,” Özcan said. The Foreign Ministry, which has played the main role in these negotiations, has apparently also been sidelined by TAEK.

Özcan reiterated that associate membership is not the end of the world for scientists studying experimental physics, but it is a huge loss for the country's technology market and companies.

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