About Fermilab

Safety and the Environment at Fermilab

Questions people ask about safety at Fermilab

Is it safe to live near Fermilab?
Yes. Fermilab's activities produce no harmful effects on the environment or on the people who live nearby. The laboratory poses no radiation hazard to surrounding communities. Fermilab has a comprehensive environmental monitoring program to ensure the health and safety of both the laboratory site and the neighboring community.

Can the accelerators "melt down" or blow up?
No. In the event of a power interuption or failure of other equipment, each Fermilab accelerator simply switches off, like a light bulb or television set. Accelerators contain no harmful materials: the particle beams just stop. When equipment is fixed and power restored, operators are able to turn back on the accelerators.

Does Fermilab produce nuclear waste?
No. Fermilab is not a nuclear laboratory and has no nuclear reactor. It does not produce nuclear waste. Fermilab does create a small amount of low-level radioactive waste, which is properly packaged and transported to a Department of Energy Facility in Washington state.

Does Fermilab keep buffalo in order to monitor the environment?
No. The oft-told tale that the buffalo are Fermilab's equivalent to the canary in the mineshaft, living Geiger counters to warn of radioactivity, is strictly fiction. The Fermilab site does not present a radiation hazard, and Fermilab buffalo do not glow in the dark. Our buffalo herd carries on a tradition begun by Robert Wilson, the laboratory's first director, to recognize and strengthen Fermilab's connection to Illinois's prairie heritage. Wilson brought the first American bison, a bull and four cows, to Fermilab in 1969; and in 1971 the Illinois Department of Conservation gave us 21 more. Today's herd are descendents of those first animals.

Could the Fermilab accelerator create collisions so powerful they might destroy the universe as we know it?
No. Although the Fermilab accelerator produces the highest-energy man-made particle collisions on earth, Mother Nature has been creating particle collisions at much higher energies for billions of years. Cosmic rays coming to earth from space produce millions of particle collisions at energies much higher than Fermilab's accelerators can create-with no ill effects for the universe.

Does Fermilab produce magnetic fields that might interfere with pacemakers or de-magnetize magnetic strips on credit cards?
No. The magnetic fields produced in Fermilab's accelerators cannot be felt outside the accelerator tunnels.

Is Fermilab a potential target for terrorist activities?
Fermilab is not involved in any defense-related research. No weapons or other classified projects take place at Fermilab, and the lab does not carry out any nuclear energy research. Qualified scientists form around the world may join our programs, and we currently collaborate with research institutions in 24 countries. As a federal facility, Fermilab implements security measures recommended by the Department of Energy.

In the event of an attack or other disaster, could Fermilab release harmful radiation to the community?
No. The levels of radiation produced by Fermilab's operations are very low. Even in a worst-case scenario, the levels of radiation are too low to cause harm to people or the environment in neighboring communities.

last modified 03/18/2011   email Fermilab