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Fission and radiation protection

Network of Excellence for a Sustainable Integration of European Research on Severe Accident Phenomenology

Tremendous progress has been made in research on severe accident management for the nuclear industry. Now, 49 organisations are joining together in the SARNET Network of Excellence to pool their research capacities to resolve the most important outstanding uncertainties and safety issues with regard to reactors severe accidents (SA). This will improve the safety of both existing and future nuclear power plants (NPPs). The project has been defined to optimise the use of available resources and to establish research groups that will be sustainable in the long term.

Developing common tools and complementary programmes

The establishment of SARNET will tackle the fragmentation that exists between the various national R&D programmes, particularly by defining common research programmes and developing common computer tools and methodologies for safety assessment. SARNET includes most of the main actors involved in severe accident research in Europe today. A small number of these organisations are able to cover a wide range of competences in this research area – although none of them possess a complete portfolio of activities. The majority of organisations specialise in very specific areas, which allows for the development of complementary activities. In this way, the critical mass of competence for performing the experiments needed in the SA field, analysing them, developing models and integrating them into ASTEC (the integral computer code developed in previous Euratom Framework Programmes and used to predict the behaviour of nuclear power plants during a hypothetical severe accident) can be achieved for most types of nuclear power plant operating in Europe.

Schematic view of ASTEC integral code(Courtesy: IRSN)
Schematic view of ASTEC integral code(Courtesy: IRSN)

Joint activities, information and personnel exchange

To reach these objectives, all the organisations within SARNET contribute to a joint programme of activities (JPA) that has several programme elements including implementing an advanced communication tool for facilitating exchange of information; harmonising and reorienting national research programmes, and defining new ones; and jointly analysing the experimental results to reach a common understanding of relevant phenomena. The JPA will also contribute to the development of the ASTEC code, by integrating models describing the new knowledge produced within SARNET; develop the scientific databases in which all the results of all the research programmes are stored; develop a common methodology for probabilistic safety assessment (PSA) for NNPs; and develop educational courses and relevant textbooks. The network will also promote exchange of research personnel between the various European organisations.

To ensure the continued interest of the different organisations and to protect intellectual property rights, a clear policy in terms of knowledge management, in particular regarding access rights, has been defined. Reports on ‘protected’ data will only be distributed to members who, through the activity they offer, significantly increase the value of the data (by production of analyses, model development and assessment). In any case, the outcome of these programmes will be models implemented in ASTEC and safety assessment methodologies, which will be available for all SARNET members and other European organisations that would like to use them for safety assessment or development of improved NPP designs.

Sustainable integration of research, harmonised approach

SARNET provides an appropriate framework to achieve the sustainable integration of European research capacities on severe accident phenomena within a few years. By concentrating all the acquired knowledge in ASTEC and in scientific databases, SARNET will produce the correct conditions for preserving the current ‘state-of-the-art’ knowledge produced by thousands of men-years of effort, and will ensure it is available to a large number of endusers. By fostering collaborative work on developing and validating ASTEC, SARNET will establish this code as the European reference for any kind of water-cooled NPP existing in Europe. In addition, by fostering collaborative work on code development and PSA, SARNET will create the right environment for harmonising the approach to this subject and will establish Europe as a leader in SA computer code and risk assessment methodology. Through a periodic review of priorities and coprogramming of work amongst organisations, SARNET will enable the efficient use of available resources. To address long-term resource issues, an education and training programme directed at young scientists is being developed with the aim of consolidating European excellence in this field in the long term.

Improved safety, scientific leadership

As the end products developed by SARNET (ASTEC, PSA guides, scientific databases) can be used for both R&D activities and industrial applications, the majority of the European nuclear industry and relevant national safety authorities (or their technical support organisations) are contributing to the network. This, in turn, means that the network’s end products which consolidate the vast amount of knowledge acquired in this area will contribute directly to the better prevention and mitigation of severe accidents in European nuclear power plants, including those of Russian design in the Newly Associated States, and therefore to the improvement of safety of all existing and future European NPPs.

European end-users are currently using integral computer codes and PSA methodologies developed in the United States, which infers a strong dependence on the US technology. By fostering collaborative work in these areas, SARNET is creating the necessary conditions for Europe to become a world leader in the relevant research fields.

SARNET will become a central reference, in terms of research priorities in the field of SA, making impacts on national programmes and fund allocations. Over time, all the research activities in this field will become strongly coordinated by the network to ensure optimal use of European resources.

Through education and training programmes, SARNET will develop synergies with educational institutions and thus help to keep this area of research vibrant and of interest to students and young researchers. This will help to enhance and preserve a sustainable route for European scientific leadership in this area.

Project website:

This site will be a public website. A website for SARNET internal activities, in particular, access to documents produced by the network, access to the SARNET experimental database and to the ASTEC code, was constructed in June 2004 but is only accessible to SARNET participants.