UNCERTAINTY over the future of a £157m rescue package for Daresbury Laboratory is prompting some of the world's finest scientific minds to leave the region, union leaders have warned.
In March, the then Trade and Industry Secretary Stephen Byers announced the money would be available for Daresbury's Casim project.
The work, led by Liverpool University, could lead to advances in the treatment of cancer.
It followed a long campaign by scientists at the lab to save jobs in the wake of the Government's decision to relocate the Diamond Synchrotron research project to Oxford.
But now scientists say the battle to save the lab is far from over and its future still hangs in the balance.
In order to win the Casim package the lab must prove there is a scientific case for bringing the work to the North West.
An announcement is due from the North West Development Agency at the end of the month. If all goes well, the scheme will go before the Treasury for approval, a process which could take months.
Now campaigners believe the prolonged uncertainty is creating a brain drain, drawing expertise away from the 530-strong workforce.
AEEU spokesman Vinny Goulding said morale was low and scientists were being lured away by better prospects.
He said: 'People are still very anxious. It's hard to work at a laboratory with a guaranteed lifespan of just five years.
'We still haven't got confirmation of Casim. Everything is still jam tomorrow. If somebody comes along and offers our scientists a 20-year contract with more pay, these people will up sticks and go abroad.
'The initial shock when the synchrotron decision was announced made people think about branching out and furthering their careers.
'We're already having difficulty in replacing staff and the longer this drags on, the worse it will get.
'These are world-class scientists. They're here for the love of science and they don't want to be mucked about. They want to get back to doing what they're good at.'
Daresbury spokesman Tony Buckley insisted that the approval of Casim along with other schemes would halt the brain drain.
He said: 'Before it will release the money, the Government has given us a series of hoops to jump through.
'This is public money and the Government wants to be certain that the science is excellent and that our plans are sound. Casim will improve our understanding of the universe and the environment better.
'It will allow for collaborations with hospitals and charities to improve techniques for diagnosing and treating cancer.
'We don't believe there's a need for anyone at this site to move down south.'