Scientists are relieved by the UK-EU agreement to return to Horizon but the deal has one notable exception | Science & Tech News

This is a genuine day of celebration among scientists – not just in the UK but also in the EU.

Because although Horizon is the largest single pot of cash in the world available to scientists to fund their work, it was never just about the money.

The seven-year cycles of the EU-funded programme was largely about the partnerships that make science work.

Horizon allowed UK researchers to collaborate with the very best of their colleagues across Europe.

The money was nice too – especially for the UK.

Historically, the UK gained more inward research funding from Horizon than it put into the programme.

And given what was lost when Brexit forced a departure from the programme, today’s deal is a lot better than many scientists had hoped.

Not only do we rejoin Horizon on pretty good terms, UK scientists can also work in, and bid for contracts under the EU’s Copernicus Earth Observation programme.

If that sounds boring, these are the satellites, and associated data, that allows us to monitor forest fires, floods and droughts, and temperature trends on which society is becoming increasingly reliant.

Crucially, under the deal UK researchers will be able to lead Horizon funded collaborations, something that brought huge benefits to UK science and was feared was lost forever once we left the EU.

The government also managed to negotiate a deal where the taxpayer won’t have to cover the costs of two years we were absent from Horizon.

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A sense of relief

But the overriding the joy among scientists is really a sense of relief.

The vast majority say the sudden departure from Europe, then Horizon, the protracted confusion over what was happening next, did significant harm to their work. Funded collaborations ended, EU scientists working in the UK left, taking their expertise, and often, up and coming talent with them.

Prof Sir John Hardy, a pioneer in dementia research at UCL in London said this: “It is unfortunate that government believes decisions are completely reversible.

“Going back in is good. But irreversible damage has been done.”

A nuclear exception

There is one notable exception in this deal however.

The UK will remain outside the Euratom programme on nuclear research.

This is significant as it was EU-funded, UK-based research on nuclear fusion that helped create the first power plant scale fusion reactor under construction in France.

The first international attempt to prove limitless low-carbon power can be created using nuclear fusion.

If the UK is outside Euratom, it loses the leading role it had in the ITER project.

The concession is the UK will now attempt to build its own fusion research reactor.

But many in the field feel losing the UK as an collaborator will set back the international effort and believe the problem is just too tricky to solve by one country alone.

But the vast majority of researchers in the UK will be delighted.

Years of uncertainty are over and they’ll be able to rebuild the relationships that have allowed the UK to be one of the world’s leaders in science, engineering and technology.

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