The shift in opinion at the European Commission towards actively supporting nuclear power is now long established. And whilst even vocal encouragement was first welcome to an industry that had encountered opposition from parts of the commission, this support is now more active. An excellent example was the 21 September 2007 launch of the sustainable-nuclear-energy-technology-platform, a formal European Union (EU)-sponsored body, bringing together researchers, public officials and nuclear industry managers to define and – crucially – implement a strategic research agenda for the sector. Its mission is to decide how research could help make nuclear fission power in Europe as clean, safe and efficient as possible, raising its popularity and making it an increasingly viable (economically and political) alternative to fossil fuel-based energy production. And having drafted realistic research proposals, the platform is supposed to keep on the case – making sure they get implemented.With global warming initiatives and concerns intensifying, the importance of making nuclear energy more palatable will grow, noted EU research commissioner Janez Potocnik at the platform’s launch: “It is clear that we need to address two important concerns – ensuring that nuclear power is economically competitive and, more importantly, our duty to make it as neutral as possible in environmental terms and in terms of the legacy we leave future generations. The answer to both these concerns can be found in research: innovation and the next generation of nuclear power plants, with increased safety, efficiency and a significant reduction in nuclear waste as well as sound ways of recycling or storing it.”
A real organisationSo how exactly will this platform work? Well, first up, it is a real organisation, with a governing board, an executive committee, working groups and a biennial ruling general assembly. Members are being drawn from the nuclear power industry, broad-based electricity utilities, research organisations, universities and public bodies or governments. The board is tasked with providing guidance on drafting and implementing a strategic research agenda for nuclear power, looking to exploit existing EU initiatives, budgets and structures. The executive committee is responsible for running the platform on a regular basis and coordinating the different working groups and projects, supported by a secretariat. Three panels report to the executive committee: one is drafting and updating the strategic research agenda; the second is responsible for implementing it; and a third panel will coordinate education and training to improve nuclear energy expertise in the EU and also conduct scientific evaluations of platform’s activities.These arms are assisted by a so-called ‘mirror group’, which is charged with boosting cooperation from pro-nuclear EU member states and the European Commission (EC) – helping ensure national research programmes follow the platform’s overall strategy. And there is also a technical safety organisations (TSO) group, advising on safety assessment-related research and development, to harmonise safety standards and methodologies across the EU. All these bodies have either met, or are planning meetings.This multi-faceted platform has a key job – and that is the drafting of a ‘Strategic Research Agenda’ (SRA), which will provide timetabled programmes for three important policy goals. These are:
- Optimising the operations of existing reactors and promoting next generation light water reactors (generations II and III).
- Preparing the deployment of future more sustainable nuclear systems, including advanced fuel cycles.
- Widening the range of nuclear energy applications.
Maybe this new organisation will hasten technological progress in Europe's nuclear power sector
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