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Non-nuclear energy


Fission and radiation protection

European Hot Laboratories Research Capacities and Needs

The HOTLAB coordination action is to set up a European network of ‘hot laboratories’ (facilities with the expertise and equipment to handle and analyse radioactive materials) in support of nuclear energy safety optimisation and the long-term management of radioactive waste. HOTLAB will work to maintain nuclear expertise and secure an adequate nuclearrelated research infrastructure in Europe by, where necessary, combining the best available competencies at the highest quality.

Preserving ‘hot’ expertise and facilities

Remote handling system in a hot laboratory(Courtesy: EC-JRC - ITU)
Remote handling system in a hot laboratory(Courtesy: EC-JRC - ITU)
The majority of European ‘hot’ laboratories were established in the 1960s as nuclear power was widely introduced as a significant energy source. The facilities in these laboratories, such as remotely operated tools, have been continuously developed since and have successfully supported the safe operation of nuclear power plants in European utility companies.

This coordination action will look at the current resources and capabilities of national hot laboratories with the aim of integrating their facilities. The aim will be, where possible, to preserve expertise and employment and establish a mutually accessible set of complimentary facilities for the long term. An assessment of present and future needs will be undertaken and the harmonisation and standardisation of research methodologies capabilities addressed.

Assessing current inventory, future need and transport issues

During the last decade, a variety of pressures, including the maturity of many nuclear power plants and the negative public perception of nuclear research, have resulted in an appreciable downsizing of some national hot laboratories. At the same time, these laboratories are faced with higher demands regarding advanced research tools in response to the more fundamental research needed to feed the modern in-depth modelling, as opposed to the more engineering-directed research of the past. Furthermore, the aged basic infrastructure has to be refurbished in order to comply with the more stringent requirements of the regulatory authorities. Simultaneously, a new generation of scientists are replacing the pioneers of the science – but in fewer numbers. As a result, the hot laboratories are facing a more complex workload in a more stringent environment (i.e. more costly research assignments), with reduced funding and a smaller and relatively less experienced workforce.

The European national hot laboratories have traditionally operated as individual, independent research establishments without a common forward strategy and no collective policies. The HOTLAB co-ordination action represents a first approach to establishing such a common response to the research needs of the nuclear field. Hot laboratories are facing higher demands on their research, including development of advanced tools for continuing safety related R&D for the current operation of nuclear reactors, including the safe resolution of the nuclear waste issue. In addition, further demands will arise from future advanced reactor designs for both fourth-generation fission reactors and future fusion reactors.

HOTLAB has three components:

Initially, a comprehensive inventory of the present hot laboratory installations will be made. This register will include all individual capabilities, such as number and type of hot cells, the technical characteristics of the installation, its capacity for handling and storing radioactive materials, etc., and will act as the basis for an analysis of synergies between the various facilities.

In parallel, the present and future research needs of the European nuclear industry and other stakeholders will be assessed to ensure that the appropriate experimental techniques will be operational in hot laboratories to support the work.

In addition, a task group will be established on the transport of nuclear samples. The optimisation of safe and secure inter-laboratory transport is an essential prerequisite to enable the integration of the individual hot laboratories capabilities. The objective is to make available an up-todate European transport cask inventory to the nuclear community and to harmonise transport procedures.

A solid basis for the future

The project will deliver an inventory of current research capabilities in the form of an internet-based, dynamic database. The database will also include the facilities for inter-laboratory transport of samples.

The assessment of present and future needs for nuclear research in terms of infrastructure facilities will form a solid basis to build a common strategy for sustainable integration in the longer term.

Ensuring support for public health and security of energy supply

Within Europe, a substantial part of our energy supply will still rely on conventional nuclear reactors for many decades to come. The continued safe and economic exploitation of the existing conventional reactors, including a safe, secure and publicly acceptable resolution of the waste issue, requires appropriate hot laboratory capabilities for R&D in Europe for the long term. It is generally recognised that research on waste management technologies must be actively pursued and that the European Union must hold its leading position in the field of civil nuclear technology in order to retain the necessary expertise, to develop more efficient fission reactors, and enable fusion to become a reality.

HOTLAB sets the basis for continuing and enhancing the vital work of hot laboratories supporting public health and safety and promoting security of energy supply on a common pan-European basis.

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