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What are the main priorities for Euratom research in nuclear fission and radiation protection?

Deposition machine for disposal of Super Container - Courtesy of SKB, SE

Deposition machine for disposal of Super Container with a weight of about 45 tons in horizontal drifts – diameter: 1.85 m. This disposal concept for spent nuclear fuel is called KBS-3H in the Swedish and Finnish programme - Courtesy of SKB, SE

Energy is now high on the political agenda. As a low-carbon baseload generator of electricity, nuclear power is currently playing an important role in the EU’s overall energy mix, generating approximately one third of all the electricity consumed. In the EU’s Strategic Energy Technology Plan (SET Plan link 1), the contribution of nuclear power in meeting the ambitious 2020 and 2050 targets regarding CO2 emissions is clearly addressed. This requires a continuous R&D effort across the nuclear industrial and research sector. The Euratom framework programme is a key catalyst for many of the needed actions.

With respect to the 2020 targets, priorities are maintaining safe operation of current reactors and continuing progress towards implementing solutions for the disposal of the most hazardous forms of radioactive waste.

With respect to the more ambitious 2050 targets, advanced reactor technology offers the prospect of greatly increased sustainability of nuclear energy while maintaining a high level of safety and competitiveness and minimising waste production. With their ability to generate not only electricity but also heat for industrial applications, including large-scale production of hydrogen, such ‘generation IV’ systems may become a vital component of a future hydrogen-based economy.

The main research priority in the field of radiation protection is a better quantification and understanding of the risks from exposure to levels of radiation typically occurring in the workplace (e.g. hospitals) and in the environment. Another important priority is the development and optimisation of guidance for diagnostic uses of radiation in medicine. Research is also supported in such areas as protection of the environment from radiation, emergency management and rehabilitation of contaminated areas.

Many of the activities in Euratom FP7 are a continuation of long-term research supported in previous Euratom programmes. In general, FP7 is encouraging greater cross-fertilisation amongst the various priorities of the programme, with specific focus on topics that cut across the various activity areas. A typical example is research on advanced materials for both waste transmutation technologies and generation-IV reactors, where the challenges and problems are very similar.

More specifically, what kind of research is supported and what are the objectives?

The following key activities are being undertaken during the current Seventh Euratom Framework Programme link 2 (Euratom FP7) in nuclear fission and radiation protection:

  • Management of radioactive waste link 3 – research on all remaining key aspects of deep geological disposal of radioactive waste, including, as appropriate, demonstration of technological solutions, and on reducing the amount and hazard of the waste for disposal
  • Reactor systems link 4 – research to underpin the continued safe operation of existing reactors and to assess the potential of future reactor systems regarding, in particular, increased sustainability and competitiveness
  • Radiation protection link 5 – assessment and mitigation of risks from low and protracted doses and the medical uses of radiation in order to provide a socially acceptable system of radiation protection for citizens without unduly limiting the beneficial uses of nuclear technology
  • Infrastructures link 6 – support for the availability of and access to nuclear research infrastructures in Europe, enabling a critical mass of know-how and research facilities to be retained for the benefit of the broad nuclear science community in the key disciplines
  • Human resources, mobility, and training link 7 – retaining scientific competence, promoting standards of education and training, and ensuring the availability of qualified people for the nuclear sector over the longer term.

A fundamental strategic aim during Euratom FP7 is to facilitate the establishing of European technology platforms link 8 in appropriate fields of nuclear science and technology. Technology platforms bring together a broad spectrum of stakeholders, public and private, to formulate and implement common strategic research agendas in key areas, with potentially significant impact on Europe’s R&D effectiveness and efficiency and ultimate competitiveness. They are an important means towards the full implementation of the European Research Area (ERA) link 9 in line with the Lisbon Agenda objectives.

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