Foratom calls for increased EU nuclear R&D spending

06 March 2018

A "substantial" increase in the level of European Union funding for future Euratom research programmes is required if the EU is to maintain its share of nuclear electricity, according to Foratom, the European nuclear trade body.

The power sector will need to be fully decarbonised if the EU is to meet its goal of reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by up to 95% by 2050, it said, and low-carbon technologies - including nuclear - will play a key role in this transition. Nuclear energy already accounts for some 50% of the EU's low-carbon electricity generation, avoiding about 700 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions annually.

Foratom said yesterday: "In order to maintain low-carbon nuclear electricity production in the EU, a mixture of new build and long-term operation of existing nuclear power plants will be needed. A strong nuclear research and training capability is essential to underpin these operations."

The organisation said R&D activities should focus on issues including the development of new reactor concepts that are more efficient, more sustainable and more economic. Research on improving the safety and efficiency of current light water reactors should also continue. R&D should also focus on gaining a better understanding of the ageing of power reactors and how to control and mitigate it. Investigations should also be made into making reactor components and nuclear fuel more resistant to radiation and higher temperatures. Waste management and disposal technologies should also be developed for non-standard waste streams, as well as new recycling technologies for fast reactor fuels.

"Shared, large research infrastructures of common interest, which can be useful for training and encouraging researcher mobility," should be maintained, Foratom said.

"Significant investment in research facilities, as well as human resources and equipment, will be needed to achieve these aims," it said. "If Europe is truly committed to decarbonising its economy, then this should be reflected in the budget allocated to nuclear R&D."

In a position paper released last month, Foratom said the current level of funding in the Euratom Fission Programme, at around EUR50 million (USD62 million) per year, is "patently out of tune" with the EU's objective of maintaining European technological leadership in the nuclear field.

"The fact that nearly 20 times more funding under Horizon 2020 is allocated to research on non-nuclear energies does not, in our view, reflect the important part that nuclear must play in meeting the EU's decarbonisation objectives for 2030 and 2050," it said.

The European Commission is mandated by the Euratom Treaty to periodically issue a new Communication on the Nuclear Illustrative Programme (PINC) to indicate targets and a programme for nuclear production and the corresponding investment required. The latest PINC was published in May 2017.

Foratom said it fully supports the conclusion of the latest PINC that continuing to pursue research and development is instrumental to maintaining the EU at the forefront of nuclear technology, and develop the highest standards of safety, security, waste management and non-proliferation. This implies continued investment in research and training/education, as well as in nuclear research infrastructure, it added.

It noted that current governance arrangements require unanimity for approving new Euratom research programmes. This means that the non-nuclear Member States are "effectively able to dictate" that the programme objectives are focused only on safety, radioprotection and waste management.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News