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The future of an ambitious and exotic $8.3 billion atom smasher project known as the super collider is in doubt after the House stunned supporters by voting against continued construction funds.

Critics of the proposed research facility, which has already cost nearly $1 billion, have criticized it as too expensive in an era when Congress is trying to hold down spending."It's an enormous pig in a poke," declared Rep. Howard Wolpe, D-Mich., who argued that the project near Waxahachie, Texas, already has run up huge cost overruns and that its scientific merits have been exaggerated.

The 232-181 vote Wednesday night was to strip an Energy Department spending bill of most of the $483.7 million earmarked for the project in fiscal 1993.

It remains to be seen whether the Senate will insist on continued construction and, if so, the outcome of a conference committee showdown with the House. The Bush administration supports the project.

Project officials said 2,000 jobs could be lost if the program actually is cancelled.

The super collider has been hailed by its supporters as a way to assure America's place as a world leader in scientific research, especially in high-energy physics.

The facility would be the world's most advanced laboratory for studying the basic origins of matter by colliding subatomic particles at extremely high speeds and observing the outcome.

The center piece of the planned project is a 54-mile oval tunnel that would surround the small town of Waxahachie. Subatomic particles would be accelerated in the tunnel to nearly the speed of light and smashed together. As many as 2,500 scientists from around the world eventually would use the facility in searching for basic clues about the building blocks of matter.

The project's advocates say this basic research inevitably would lead to numerous other scientific findings.

But all that sounded too exotic to a large number of House members Wednesday night.

Energy Secretary James Watkins said in a statement that he was "deeply disappointed" by the House action.