EU nuclear research key in the fight against cancer and illegal nuclear trafficking

October 20, 2003

Brussels, 17 October 2003

A key player in the fight against cancer and illegal nuclear trafficking, the European Commission Joint Research Centre's Institute for Transuranium Elements (ITU) at Karlsruhe, Germany, today celebrates its 40th Anniversary. The ITU manages projects for nuclear research in fields such as radioactive waste management, nuclear forensics, radiation protection, detecting radiation in the environment, and other nuclear-related activities, including life-saving medical applications, for instance to cure cancer. The ITU also plays a key role in detecting, fingerprinting and tracking down nuclear materials across Europe - and beyond. It therefore contributes to the fight against nuclear smuggling and nuclear proliferation.

On a visit to the ITU to celebrate its anniversary, EU Research Commissioner Philippe Busquin said: "It is vital for Europe to establish a sustainable, safe and reliable mix of energy sources. Nuclear energy is an option, but more research is needed in waste management and nuclear safety. The Commission's JRC has become a reference centre for nuclear research and its work will be even more important in an enlarged European Union. Nuclear technology will bring benefits to future generations and European research should be at the forefront of this development. With its network of experienced researchers and cutting-edge technologies, the Commission is ready to meet this challenge."

The ITU is looking into nuclear forensics, monitoring radiation in our environment, and taking a leading role in knowledge transfer to researchers inside and outside the European Union, with the safety and welfare of the citizen as its top priority.

Safety First

Protecting the European citizen against risks associated with the handling and storage of highly radioactive elements, and contributing to the safety of the nuclear fuel cycle are the main goals of the Institute. In close collaboration with their European colleagues and with the industry and the authorities, the researchers of the Institute study both options as proposed by the Member States for solving the nuclear waste problem, i.e. direct storage and transmutation.

They therefore investigate the behavious of spent fuel in geological repository, as well as the separation of long-lived elements of the nuclear waste and their transmutation into less radiotoxic substances. The Minor Actinide laboratory, a state of the art facility for the production of transmutation fuels and targets and the hot cell equipment, which serves for the examination of irradiated fuels, are key equipment allowing the performance of this important task.

Such experimental work is complemented by the development and validation of simulation codes, now also including tools for the Russian-type reactors; these codes serve for the licensing of nuclear installations.

Efficiency and Analysis

The service of the citizen also requires the establishment of efficient systems for the safety and control of the fuel cycle. The Institute develops analytical techniques and supports the safeguard authorities of the Union and across the world, like the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) in Vienna. It is also participating in the efforts of the Commission to combat the illicit trafficking of nuclear materials through the development of a nuclear forensics programme together with Europol.

In the framework of the international fight against the illicit trafficking of nuclear materials the JRC is, for example, active in training customs officials in Eastern European Countries. Media will be shown how the Institute's Safeguards Analytical Reference Laboratory provides analytical assistance and expertise on plutonium-handling facilities and is developing new high-performance analytical tools for trace analysis i.e. nuclear fingerprinting. In the areas of illicit trafficking of nuclear materials, illicit waste dumping and environmental impact of radioactive releases, ITU improves the selectivity, sensitivity and accuracy of detection and measurement methods to better identify the origin of the materials.

The JRC also monitors levels of radioactivity in the environment. The release of radioactivity into the environment can occur as a by-product of the nuclear fuel cycle, from medical applications or nuclear waste, and also from the burning of fossil fuels.

Reference for researchers

The Institute for Transuranium Elements serves as a reference centre for basic actinide research and to transmit its knowledge and know-how to the young scientists of the next generation. The unique research facilities of the Institute have to be at the disposal of external researchers, achieved through the opening of the Actinide User Laboratory in 2002. Recently, in collaboration with scientists at Los Alamos Laboratory and the University of Florida, ITU researchers demonstrated the high temperature superconductivity of plutonium compounds.

The ITU is looking back on 40 years of achievement and development of technological expertise, and is continuing to work for a future in which nuclear energy promises great benefits, while being monitored and safeguarded for the safety of all citizens.

For further information on the actitivities of the ITU, please log on to:

http:///itu.jrc.cec.eu.int

DN: IP/03/1408 Date: 17/10/2003

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