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Environmental awareness: the importance of environmental considerations for future projects

Pursuing CERN’s scientific mission through environmentally responsible research

Future Circular Collider - Image selection
The Future Circular Collider feasibility study applies the “Avoid, Reduce, Compensate" approach (Image: CERN)

Long-term environmental sustainability is one of the key factors assessed in the authorisation process of future research infrastructures and projects in the realm of particle physics research.

For years, the term “environment” was associated only with nature and the preservation of ecosystems. More recently this definition has expanded to include urban landscapes and the embedded socio-economic activities. This more holistic approach takes into account the relationships between different aspects of the environment when planning the future of particle physics research. 

In 2020, the European Strategy for Particle Physics, the cornerstone of Europe’s decision-making process for the long-term future of the field, was updated following almost two years of discussions between particle physicists in Europe and around the world. In the process, a report from 180 young scientists highlighted the importance of environmentally responsible and sustainable decisions for the future of particle physics.

The updated European Strategy has a dedicated chapter on “environmental and societal impact”, stating that the environmental impact of particle physics should continue to be carefully studied while striving to increase the net benefits from the realisation of a new facility. It recommends that major projects integrate sustainability in their design and include a detailed plan for reducing their environmental impact, and that wider environmental applications for technologies developed in particle physics be actively sought.

In the framework of the feasibility study for the Future Circular Collider, a possible future accelerator based at CERN that may succeed the LHC at the end of its lifetime, different working hypotheses are being developed for the placement of the 91-km-circumference tunnel and its eight surface sites. These working hypotheses take into account the geological conditions, surface constraints, infrastructure and resources, and are based on the “Éviter, Réduire, Compenser” (Avoid, Reduce, Compensate) principle, a comprehensive approach that integrates environmental and socio-economic aspects.

Given the extent of excavation that would be required to build the FCC accelerator tunnel, a working group on the management of excavated materials was created in 2018. On this same topic, the Mining the future competition was launched. The competition challenges participants to identify credible solutions for innovative reuse and sustainable management of the estimated large quantities of excavated materials.

Reducing the environmental impact of particle physics research is firmly on the agenda, and is also reflected in CERN’s current main objectives for 2021–2025: to minimise the Laboratory’s impact on the environment, pursue actions and technologies aiming at energy saving and reuse and, going further, identify and develop CERN technologies that may contribute to mitigating the impact of society on the environment. Recent initiatives linked to these objectives include a project to assess how to “green” CERN’s procurement strategy and the launch of the CERN Innovation Programme for Environmental Applications (CIPEA).

These core environmental considerations, which, as required by the approval process for any new project, are linked to clear commitments, ensure that our scientific research is pursued responsibly, for the benefit of all.


This article is part of the series “CERN’s year of environmental awareness”.