Brussels, 25 Mar 2004
A year into the Sixth Framework Programme, in 2003, the Commission's coordinator for nuclear reactor safety research, Georges Van Goethem, spoke to CORDIS News of a real need for collaboration in the field.
In April, collaboration on a huge scale will get underway with the launch of the SARNET Network of Excellence. With the involvement of 49 organisations (18 research organisations, 11 private companies, ten universities, four utilities and six safety authorities/technical support organisations) across Europe, cooperation could not come on a much larger scale.
The project will tackle the fragmentation of research that exists in Europe, notably by defining research priorities, as well as developing and qualifying computer tools used to predict the various stages of nuclear accidents.
'Today a lot of research of the same type is being carried out in different organisations,' explained Jean-Claude Micaelli, from IRSN, the French institute of radioprotection and nuclear safety, who will coordinate the project. 'On a case by case basis, we already have collaboration on a bilateral or multilateral level, but we've never had a place where the whole domain is covered and where everybody speaks to everybody else,' he said.
The ultimate aim of severe nuclear accident research is to prevent the release of radioactive elements into the environment. The way in which scientists aim to do this is by predicting the chain of interlinked events that would occur inside a reactor if something were to go wrong. They are then able to assess the efficiency of measures planned to manage the accident.
ASTEC, the severe accident analysis code developed by IRSN and GRS, will be central to SARNET. The code brings together the physical understanding of the phenomena inside nuclear reactors, mathematical models able to reproduce the behaviour of these phenomena, techniques to resolve these mathematical equations, and the results of comparisons between predictions and the results of experiments. The result is a code which can be used to calculate the global scenario of a severe nuclear accident. ASTEC will be updated with any new knowledge generated during the project.
SARNET will also seek to improve the methodologies applied in Level 2 probabilistic safety assessment (PSA) - the ways in which a systematic analysis of the different scenarios that could occur when a core meltdown is in progress is carried out. The scenarios are quantified both in terms of probability of occurrence and in terms of the resulting radioactive release expected. The results are used to define measures to reduce the risk.
The Network of Excellence also includes countries about to accede to the EU, and others with candidate country status. Dr Micaelli told CORDIS News that he does not believe these countries are necessarily a long way behind the rest of Europe in this field, but that they do not have access to all of the knowledge and results that are being produced now.
Coordinating such a huge network could have been an extremely complicated task for Dr Micaelli, but the network's activities have been structured in such a way that the assignment is manageable. The technical coordination is shared between several other organisations, in particular CEA, FzK, GRS and KTH.
'The networks looks in fact like a halo around a core group constituted of about seven 'major' partners providing most of the basic knowledge: experimental data and the ASTEC tool,' explained Dr Micaelli. Different activities will be conducted in different sub-groups, 'Thus, the information flows are less difficult to manage than they would have been in a system where each partner produces the same amount of work and shares the results with all the other partners.'
The SARNET consortium believes that the project will modify the landscape of severe nuclear accident research in Europe in a durable way, and has already agreed to continue working together following the end of the contract with the Commission. It is hoped that the project will provide a reference in terms of research priorities, which is all the more important now that national funding for nuclear activities is decreasing.