New budget could help Jeff Lab (Daily Press)

New budget could help Jeff Lab

The Energy Department says the new Bush proposal seeks money that may save jobs and upgrade the facility.

NEWPORT NEWS — President Bush's call on Tuesday to double federal funding for basic scientific research over the next 10 years might give a national laboratory in Newport News the money it needs to offer scientists a clearer view of the building blocks of matter.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced Thursday that Bush's proposed budget, which will be released next week, will include money for an upgrade that would double the power of a massive electron accelerator used in nuclear physics research at Jefferson Lab.

The proposed federal budget also seeks to restore funding at the lab, where officials have talked about eliminating jobs since Congress slashed their budget last year by almost $8 million — from $87 million to $79 million.

Linda Ware, a lab spokeswoman, said it's too soon to know whether the lab now will avoid losing jobs. "This is a huge number," Ware said. "Congress could start chipping away at it. We certainly hope not."

Bush's budget increases spending for the federal nuclear physics program by $87 million to $454 million. The energy department did not release detailed budget figures.

The lab — formally known as the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility — had reduced the run time of its accelerator from 32 weeks a year to 26 weeks to save money. Ware said run times will resume regular schedules.

Shaped like a nearly mile-long underground racetrack, the accelerator spins electron beams at almost the speed of light and hurls them into detectors that allow scientists to see subatomic particles.

The proposed upgrade could cost about $225 million and increase the accelerator's power from 6 billion to 12 billion electron volts. The upgrade could add as many as 40 new full-time jobs when completed. The lab employs about 650 people.

During his State of the Union speech, Bush also proposed to make permanent a research and development tax credit and to train 70,000 high school teachers for advanced-placement math and science classes.

The moves heeded recommendations from an October report stating that federal action was required to maintain American competitiveness in scientific fields in a global economy.