The European Parliament has approved a new €1.6 billion ($2.2 billion) spending program for nuclear energy research, as part of the €78.6 billion ($106.3 billion) Horizon 2020 research and innovation program.
Of that budget, €636 million ($860 million) will be set aside for nuclear fusion research, and €318 million ($430 million) for fission.
The parliament also approved a separate spending program to support the ITER fusion reactor project, which will have an additional €2.5 billion ($3.5 billion) set aside. Both budgets will be spent between 2014 and 2020.
EU research commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said, "This is a vote of confidence in the power of EU research and innovation funding. It paves the way for more investment in knowledge and competitiveness in Europe."
Lidia Borrell-Damián, the director of research and innovation for the European University Association, said the overall increase of research funding over the €54 billion ($73 billion) assigned to the outgoing EU Seventh Framework Program (FP7) for research, was "very welcome."
The European Commission (EC) should release its first Horizon 2020 calls for proposals next month, which should include more information on rules regarding the selection of successful projects. These are as yet unclear. The commission has said it wants a more open selection process than in past EU framework programs. These have asked for feedback on potential projects on the basis of broad research policy priorities. This was then turned into detailed calls for proposals that have often limited the number of applicants.
With Horizon 2020, the EC is expected to request less detailed calls for proposals, having dispensed with the initial round of consultation. The aim is to increase competition for funding, prompting the development of more proposals.
As for the €1.6 billion ($2.2 billion) Euratom portion of Horizon 2020 spending, special funding rules will apply, explained the European Commission. "Because of its different legal base, the budget for Euratom is set for five years (until 2018 included). For the years 2014-2018, the budget is foreseen to be €1.6 billion and an 'envelope' for the years 2019-2020 is estimated for a total amount of €770 million ($1042 million)," it added.
While approving these spending programs, the parliament also amended its regulations, influencing how the money will be spent. As regards the general nuclear research program, parliamentarians called, for instance, for a focus on decommissioning and dismantling. It explained: "These are promising market areas, given the relevant scientific advances and safety imperatives." It said the EU "must acquire the best possible technologies for this work, which will involve increasingly sophisticated techniques (such as underwater cutting, laser cutting and state-of-the-art robots to eliminate human intervention)."
As for the ITER program, the parliament added a commitment to develop a communications program to keep EU citizens "fully informed of and consulted about nuclear fusion challenges, risks and safety." It also called for the development of a policy to develop a fusion sector service industry, which included small as well as large companies. The aim, it said, is to "prepare the European system for the fusion era."
By Keith Nuthall
for World Nuclear News