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C o m m unity re s e a rch

Nuclear fission and radiation protection

Protecting the public and ensuring safe, secure and sustainable energy options for Europe now and in the future

Reactor systems
Nuclear power generates one third of all the electricity consumed in the EU today, at the same time emitting no greenhouse gases. Thanks to nuclear, the EUs total greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by some 14% a year more than 700 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, equivalent to that produced by all the private cars in Europe. Nuclear power contributes significantly to helping the EU meet its current commitments under the Kyoto Protocol and it offers options for sustainable energy supply into the future. Euratom FP7 research is focused on ensuring the continued safe operation of existing nuclear power installations and also preparing the ground for future options that can provide diversity and security of energy supply in Europe whilst combating climate change. Advanced nuclear technology could deliver even safer, more resource-efficient and more competitive nuclear energy.

Euratom is a member of GIF with the JRC coordinating the Communitys input. Other members of GIF are Canada, France, Japan, South Korea, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. China, Russia and South Africa are all set to join in 2007. Euratom research will investigate aspects of the selected advanced reactor systems and associated fuels, in particular to assess their potential and viability, proliferation resistance and long-term sustainability. European research in areas such as materials science, fuel cycles and waste management are also generically applicable to the Generation IV portfolio.

Nuclear safety
Courtesy of TVO, FI

Ensuring the continuing safety of the existing nuclear power plants operating in Europe and neighbouring states is paramount. Nuclear power plants are complex technological systems and research into their operational safety is multi-faceted. It can involve tasks such as plant life assessment and management, safety culture to minimise the risk of human and organisational error, advanced safety assessment methodologies, numerical simulation tools, instrumentation and control, and prevention and mitigation of severe accidents, with associated activities to optimise knowledge management and maintain competence. Particular issues of immediate interest include research to link advanced numerical tools with experimental data for current and future reactor systems. This would lead to the creation of a European pole of excellence in reactor safety computation. Other hot topics include the improved prediction of irradiation effects on reactor internal structures and cladding to model corrosion effects and therefore increase accuracy in forecasting safe reactor lifetime. The interface between man, machine and organisation is also an important area for research. An increasingly multinational working environment could impact on safety culture in complex installations as can increased automation.

A new generation
Nuclear power technology has evolved in three distinct design generations: the initial prototype reactors; the second generation of reactors that form the current park of operating power plants; and an evolutionary third generation of reactors with enhanced safety and competitiveness being realised in new-build plant today in Finland and France. A fourth generation of reactors is now being researched and designed that could be available for commercial exploitation from around 2025. The so-called Generation IV concepts are truly innovative and revolutionary. As well as being economically competitive and extremely safe, with increased reliance on intrinsic and passive safety features and zero off-site impacts in severe accident scenarios, they would make best use of natural uranium resources, minimise waste production. They could enable cogeneration of electricity and heat for use in processes such as hydrogen production and other industrial applications. Many of the Generation IV reactor designs operate with fast as opposed to thermal neutrons. This will enable closed fuel cycles to be developed and the full energy potential of uranium fuel to be harnessed, at the same time recycling and burning the most radiotoxic elements and greatly enhancing resistance to nuclear proliferation. Research and development on Generation IV concepts is a global collaborative effort that is coordinated under the Generation IV International Forum (GIF). Six different reactor systems have been selected that offer the greatest promise for the successful achievement of the Generation IV goals.

Courtesy of GIF Courtesy of Electrabel, BE

Management of radioactive waste

Finding acceptable solutions for managing long-lived radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel is an issue key to the nuclear industry and society alike. It is a challenge that the European community must address today and not pass on for subsequent generations to deal with. And it is a challenge that will remain no matter what policy decisions are made with respect to the contribution of nuclear power to future energy supplies. A common European view on the disposal of hazardous radioactive waste has developed over the past decade amongst a wide spectrum of stakeholders. This view embraces the disposal of waste in deep geological formations as the most appropriate, viable and long-term solution. Research carried out under previous Euratom programmes will enable FP7 activities to be truly implementation orientated aiming to establish a sound scientific and technical basis for demonstrating the safe disposal of high-level radioactive waste. The objective is to show clearly that the technology and practices are safe, economic and available for deployment now. In parallel, the use of techniques such as partitioning and transmutation continue to be investigated, with the aim of enabling waste quantities to be minimised and reducing significantly the time over which any waste remains a potential radiological hazard.

Repository demonstration
A significant part of the programme will focus on engineering studies and design demonstration that show effective technical solutions to the key issues in a geological repository do exist. Initially these may include aspects such as safe on-site transport, feasibility of construction and proof of long-term integrity of seals. The operational feasibility of disposal reversibility i.e. the ability to recover the waste and its impact on the integrity of the repository system may also be investigated. The emphasis of this work will be to fulfil the requirements for licence applications. The actions undertaken may be broader than purely technical, including development of arguments for the safety case and communication activities to enhance public confidence.

Geological disposal
Research in the field of geological disposal of high-level and/or long-lived radioactive waste involves engineering studies and demonstration of waste repository designs as well as aspects such as radionuclide migration, gas generation and alkaline intrusion. In-situ characterisation of repository host rocks, both generic and in site-specific underground research laboratories, will be undertaken as will other studies on the repository environment.

Partitioning and transmutation (P&T)

These techniques involve physical and chemical methods to separate the more hazardous radionuclides from the waste stream (partitioning) and their nuclear transformation into less hazardous or shorter lived elements (transmutation). P&T research could lead to systems that effectively reduce the volume and long-term toxicity of radioactive waste emanating either from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel or the spent fuel itself. Research will also explore the potential for new reactor concepts and/or fuel cycles to produce less waste during operation of nuclear power plants. This has important links with the research effort on Generation IV systems. Partitioning processes for viable recycling strategies will need to be developed to a full demonstration at pilot plant level. Initially, work may concentrate on extending the technically mature aqueous chemical separation processes that are compatible with both fuel fabrication and future fuel recycling strategies. In parallel, the development of pyrochemical techniques for partitioning will be continued in line with roadmaps for this technology outlined under FP6. The work in this area will lay the groundwork for future sustainable nuclear fuel cycle strategies, whether involving transmutation in a dedicated waste-burning Accelerator Driven System (i.e. sub-critical reactor) or in future Generation IV power plants.

Courtesy of SKB, SE

By recycling and then burning all the higher actinides in this way, the period over which high-level radioactive waste remains hazardous could theoretically be reduced from hundreds of thousands of years down to a few hundred years.
Courtesy of CEA-Saclay, FR

Relative radio toxicity

Results from important on-going research will progressively feed into the FP7 effort. This includes studies on the near field (the waste material itself and the engineered barriers in the repository) and the far-field (bedrock and other potential pathways for the radioactive elements to migrate back into the biosphere), together with work to develop robust methodologies for overall performance and safety assessment. A multidisciplinary approach effectively integrates the work of experimentalists, modellers and engineering designers and the results are also fed into governance and societal debates that aim to reassure the public and help to promote public acceptance of these waste disposal techniques. Studies on such governance issues also form part of the programme.

10 000

1 000

MA + FP Plutonium recycling


PU + MA + FP Spent fuel No reprocessing


Uranium ore (mine) FP P&T of minor actinides (MA)

100 1 000 10 000 Time (years) 100 000 1 000 000

0,1 10

Courtesy of SKB, SE

Radiation protection
The safe use of radiation in medicine and industry relies on a sound radiation protection policy and its effective implementation. Research under the Euratom programme plays a key role in maintaining and improving the standards of protection, in particular enabling a rapid and effective response to emerging safety issues.

Low and protracted doses

Building on important work currently being undertaking in FP6, a key objective for Euratom FP7 will be to resolve current controversy on the risk from exposures to radiation at low and protracted doses. A better understanding of this scientific and regulatory issue has important cost and health implications for the use of radiation in both medical and industrial applications. Better quantification of the risk, including variations in individuals response, will be assessed using epidemiological studies. Non-cancer health effects will also be studied and initial research in FP7 will assess the feasibility of establishing and monitoring a trans-national group of young children who have received significant medical radiation doses. Overall, an improved understanding of the mechanisms will be gained through cellular and molecular biology research.

Medical uses
The use of therapies (including nuclear medicine) and diagnostic techniques employing ionising radiation is increasing. The safety and efficacy of such practices must be monitored and improved and new technological developments assessed to maintain the appropriate balance between medical benefit and risk. Initial research will look at methodologies to reduce patient exposure to radiation but maintain or improve clinical information, as well as methodologies to better assess and reduce the exposure of medical staff. Improved methodologies will also be developed to assess and reduce doses to peripheral tissues across all treatments, but in particular for more advanced and innovative procedures. In this way, key information will be acquired to form the basis for judgmentmaking on the use of radiation in medicine. Quality criteria may also be developed for use by the various standards authorities across Europe.

Emergency Management
Europe has maintained a strong, cross-continent emergency system that allows a unified and coordinated response to any nuclear emergency within or outside the Community. During Euratom FP7 work will be undertaken to further improve the coherence and integration of this system including the characterisation of contamination and rehabilitation of accidentally contaminated territory. This will involve the development of common tools and strategies which will be tested in operational environments. In particular, the first steps will be made to develop a methodology for optimising the design of monitoring systems that can make a timely and effective impact on the decision-making process. This is especially important as over the next decade many of the monitoring systems put in place following the Chernobyl accident will require replacement or upgrade.

Security threats
With new security challenges facing society, there is a need to develop robust and practical approaches in response to the malevolent use of radiation or radioactive materials, in particular to minimise the impact of nuclear and radiological terrorism. The Euratom programme will work closely with the FP7 Cooperation Specific Programme on Security to ensure complementarity and that expertise and experience acquired in previous Euratom programmes is available to Security researchers. Euratom FP7 will also be working to ensure that national research activities in areas such as natural radiation, radioecology, environmental protection, dosimetry, occupational exposure and risk governance are more effectively integrated at the European level for the benefit of all.
Courtesy of Leiden University, NL

Courtesy of IRSN, FR

Nuclear Fission and Radiation Protection in FP7

Nuclear fission remains a viable option for those Member States wishing to use this technology in a balanced mix of energy supplies. Research and training activities are of paramount importance in ensuring continued high levels of nuclear safety both now and in the future, maintaining the progress towards implementation of sustainable waste management solutions, and improving efficiency and competitiveness of the sector as a whole. Research in radiation protection constitutes an essential aspect of this policy, ensuring optimal safety of the public and workforce in all medical and industrial applications. For maximum effectiveness, a concerted approach at the EU level is required with continued co-operation between Member States and significant efforts to maintain infrastructures, competences and know-how. Research must also explore new scientific and technological opportunities and enable Europe to respond in a flexible way to new policy needs arising during the course of the Framework Programme. Euratom FP7 seeks to address all these challenges. Many of the activities in Euratom FP7 will be a continuation of long-term research supported in previous Community programmes. It will encourage greater cross-fertilisation amongst the various thematic priorities of the programme, with specific mention in the work programme of topics that cut across the various themes. 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. In Euratom FP7, the Commission is keen to encourage enhanced international cooperation. This may be facilitated via existing or new bilateral international R&D agreements with third countries, or on an ad hoc basis at the level of project consortia. Third country partners would normally be expected to participate using their own sources of funding.

Technology platforms
As Euratom FP7 evolves, the aim is to establish European Technology Platforms in appropriate fields across the programme. Technology platforms bring together a broad spectrum of stakeholders to formulate and implement common research agendas in strategic areas which could have significant impact on Europes competitiveness and sustainability objectives. In other fields of R&D, technology platforms have a strong industry presence. In the nuclear sector the same industry (or implementer) involvement is important, and this will be complemented by the major nuclear research-orientated organisations and other stakeholders. Currently two platforms are being planned: one covers all aspects of current and future nuclear systems, including safety research, the fuel cycle, appropriate R&D infrastructure and human resources; the second covers research, development and demonstration in the specific field of geological disposal of radioactive waste. Establishing these platforms would be a key step in the development of a more effective R&D sector in the field of nuclear fission.

A sustainable contribution
Nuclear power is the most significant European source of carbon-free base-load electricity and is an important element in combating climate change and minimising Europes dependence on imported energy sources. Advances in nuclear technology offer the prospect of significant improvements in efficiency and use of resources, whilst ensuring even higher safety standards with decreased production of waste compared to current designs. Nuclear safety remains, as always, the top priority. The European Union has an outstanding nuclear safety record, however research must continue in order to maintain this high level of safety and to understand better the risks and hazards associated with the use of radiation in medicine and industry. In all uses of radioactive materials, the overriding principle is to protect citizens and the environment. The European nuclear sector is characterised by cutting-edge technology and provides highly skilled employment for several hundred thousand people. To ensure our safety both now and in the future requires skilled people and well-equipped nuclear research facilities. The availability of these resources is a crucial prerequisite for maintaining safety no matter what the future holds for the nuclear power sector. The budget for research on Nuclear Fission and Radiation Protection, not including activities undertaken by the Joint Research Centre (JRC), for the period 2007-2011 is just under 290 million (including administrative costs).

Courtesy of AREVA NP - Framatome, FR

Human resources and infrastructures

The best equipment
Research infrastructures are an essential part of research in nuclear and radiological sciences and range from large, expensive laboratory complexes to informatics tools such as numerical modelling platforms. Support may cover design, refurbishment, construction and/or operation of key infrastructures. This could include material test facilities and training reactors, underground research laboratories and radiobiology facilities and tissue banks. All are necessary to maintain high standards of technical achievement, innovation and safety in the European nuclear sector. Support for trans-national access to these infrastructures also ensures maximum use of existing facilities. New infrastructures may be supported where there is clear added value from EU-level intervention. This is especially so if this can help establish critical mass in a field of research or there is a need to replace aging, but expensive facilities. However, the size of the Euratom fission budget limits the support that can be given to major developments. Useful evaluation of planned infrastructures is provided through the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI) process. Infrastructures also have a crucial link with education and training of scientists and engineers.


The best people

An adequate level of expertise and human resources needs to be maintained in all areas of nuclear fission and radiation protection in Europe. Indeed, our current high level of nuclear safety is critically dependant on retaining and recruiting people with the necessary scientific competence and know-how. To guarantee the availability of suitably qualified researchers, engineers and technicians in the long-term, further development of scientific competence and human capacity (for instance through joint training activities) is necessary. Coordination between educational institutions across the EU will be further improved and the training and mobility of students and scientists facilitated. Nuclear education and training schemes will be further harmonised and extended to meet stakeholder needs in areas of reactor systems, radioactive waste management and radiation protection. This will help to provide attractive international opportunities for young people wanting to enter the field. To support this, Euratom fission training schemes may be organised in areas where gaps in training provision are perceived. This truly pan-European approach will provide the incentives for a new generation of nuclear scientists and engineers who will face tomorrows scientific and technological challenges in an increasingly integrated sector on behalf of Europes citizens.

For more information

DG Research: CORDIS:

Europe Direct Enquiries Service: DG Research European Commission B-1049 Brussels Belgium

Courtesy of NRG, NL