EU to raise nuclear research spending

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Average annual funding for nuclear research is expected to grow almost 15% under the European Union's (EU's) planned Horizon 2020 program. Fusion programs account for nine-tenths of the budget.

Horizon 2020 is the financial instrument implementing the Innovation Union, a Europe 2020 initiative aimed at securing Europe's global competitiveness. Running from 2014 to 2020 with an €80 billion ($104 billion) budget, the EU's new program for research and innovation is part of the drive to create new growth and jobs in Europe.

Average annual support for the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) and the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (Iter) in France drew a combined €759 million ($985 million) from the EU's outgoing research spending scheme – the Seventh Framework Program (FP7) for 2007-2013.

The office of EU research, innovation and science commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn told World Nuclear News that under the European Commission's Horizon 2020 as currently proposed, support under these headings would total €872 million ($1.13 billion) per year on average for the five-year period 2014-2018, with costs assuming 2% annual inflation.

The Euratom Treaty limits the duration of research programs in the nuclear field to five years. Therefore, the program does not dovetail with the Horizon 2020 program for other research topics.

The respective total FP7 spend anticipated by 2018 for these nuclear studies will be €5.31 billion ($6.89 billion) under FP7 and €4.36 billion ($5.66 billion) over the 2014-2018 funding currently envisaged for Euratom and Iter.

Euratom activities directed toward fusion research received €594 million a year on average under FP7, while Horizon 2020 would increase this by 10.6% to €657 million ($582 million). Of this, €142 million ($184 million) will be for fusion research under Euratom and €515 million ($668 million) will be for the increasingly expensive Iter project itself.

The equivalent figures for Euratom nuclear fission and radiation protection research are €58 million ($75 million) under FP7 and prospectively €71 million ($92 million) under Horizon 2020. Similarly, under the new program, nuclear activities of the EC's Joint Research Centre (JRC) would see an average annual increase in support from €107 million ($139 million) to €145 million.

The proposed spending figures provide up-to-date baseline figures from which to make future comparisons as Horizon 2020 evolves. The European Parliament and EU Council of Ministers are expected to approve the budgets in mid-2013 ahead of the program's launch on 1 January 2014.

A commission spokesman said the figures underlined general objectives within Horizon 2020: to focus exclusively on improving nuclear safety, security and radiation protection (including nuclear medicine); and to contribute to long-term decarbonization of energy.

The first priority for fission research will be to support the safe operation of nuclear systems, and "greater emphasis is to be put on education and training to maintain key nuclear skills and competencies," he said.

The proposal supports research contributing directly to the fusion roadmap document recently agreed by the European Fusion Development Agreement, an EU-related international body promoting fusion research. The commission said it wants to focus co-funding on common research activities to ensure a swift start of high-performance operations at Iter.

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