Whether for nuclear research or assessment, for nuclear safety and security, or for environmental or health monitoring, most of IRSN’s activities involve partnerships, first and foremost in France, but also at a European or international level. Over time, the Institute has therefore built up a bilateral cooperative network, in particular with countries that have nuclear facilities, and a multilateral network, as part of its contribution to major international organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency, the World Health Organization, or the International Commission on Radiological Protection.
While the Institute’s international exchanges were hindered in 2020 and 2021 by Covid-19- related restrictions, the lifting of these restrictions has enabled the reactivation of projects in progress and the launch of new ones. This renewed activity translated into intensive exchanges conducted between IRSN and its European partners, particularly within the framework of the European TSO network, ETSON and, beyond this, with our Japanese and Singaporean partners, to name just a few. The level of participation of the Institute at the 66th IAEA General Conference, attended by a delegation from the Institute led by the IRSN Director General, and the renewal of the safety research cooperation agreements in force with the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (US NRC) and that of Canada (CNSC-CCSN) also illustrate the Institute’s international commitment, at the service, as always, of its scientific and technical excellence
The IRSN Director General led a major delegation to this General Conference held in Vienna at the end of September 2022 and at which the DG spoke with the IAEA Director General, Rafael Grossi, and Lydie Evrard, in charge of nuclear safety and security.
The current situation of Ukrainian nuclear facilities was at the heart of the discussions between the representatives of the 171 Member States, focusing on the major challenges of the peaceful use of nuclear energy. In addition to this question, identified as a major issue by Rafael Grossi, Jean-Christophe Niel was able to address, during several one-on-one meetings, various subjects such as the safety of small modular reactors (SMR), the Institute’s research projects concerning the safety of passive systems, and cooperation in terms of expertise between TSOs.
For their part, several IRSN experts participated in various side events at the Conference and took part in a series of one-on-one meetings with IRSN partners. The Institute organized a side event of its own, on the theme of research facilities dedicated to nuclear safety and radiation protection, attended by high-level representatives from various international organizations. In addition to the IAEA, participants included the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA), the European Commission, the European TSO ETSON network, and the European Association of Research and Technology Organizations (EARTO). They agreed on the need to ensure the sustainability of these research facilities, which are essential both for the advancement of scientific knowledge and for the training of young researchers. At the same time, the participation of the Institute’s experts in other side events enabled them to present in particular the research activities carried out using the CABRI reactor, a facility that is one of the International Centers based on Research Reactors (ICERR), designated by the IAEA, and to present its involvement in training radiation protection officers at the Forum of Nuclear Regulatory Bodies in Africa (FNRBA).
Finally, in the field of health, the Director Generals of the IAEA and IRSN have agreed to extend their cooperation, as evidenced by the IRSN presentation at the scientific forum: “Nuclear Science for Health” on the theme: “Rays of hope: cancer care for all”. The Institute also chaired a session of the Meeting of Senior Safety and Security Officers, on a subject related to proton therapy, a radiotherapy technique aimed at destroying cancer cells by irradiating them using a beam of protons rather than the photons used in conventional radiotherapy. At the IAEA, the commitment of IRSN lives up to the challenges faced by the international community in matters of nuclear safety.
In 2015, IRSN and the National University of Singapore (NUS) signed a Memorandum of Understanding establishing scientific information exchanges, visits by researchers, and training of Singaporean experts in areas of common interest. Since then, the ties between the two organizations have continuously grown and strengthened within the framework of scientific cooperation relating to three themes: radiochemical measurements and environmental metrology, radiobiology, and the safety analysis of nuclear facilities. It is against this backdrop that an IRSN delegation took part in a workshop at the National University of Singapore/Singapore Nuclear Research and Safety Initiative (NUS/ SNRSI) in June 2022. Then, in September 2022, a delegation from NUS/SNRSI and the Singapore Energy Market Authority (EMA) visited various IRSN nuclear safety and radiation protection research facilities in Cadarache (Bouches-du-Rhône). During its visit to France, the Singapore delegation also visited the IRSN site at Fontenay-aux-Roses (Hauts-de-Seine), where it was given a presentation of the Institute’s research and assessment approach in the field of atmospheric dispersion models and its crisis management organization, illustrated by a visit to the Institute’s Emergency Response Center.
At the invitation of the EMA, an IRSN delegation went back to Singapore at the end of October to participate in the first day of Singapore International Energy Week. In a session entitled: “Accelerating low-carbon solutions”, the Director General of IRSN outlined the safety challenges associated with innovative nuclear energy technologies – including small modular reactors (SMR) – which are being considered as a response to current climate, energy, and geopolitical challenges. Lastly, at the 5th meeting of the ASEAN Network for Nuclear Power Safety Research (ASEAN/NPSR), organized this year by NUS/SNRSI, the Director General of the Institute presented the ETSON network of European TSOs and its work.
As evidenced by these cross-visits, NUS/SNRSI and IRSN wish to further strengthen their strategic collaboration in the coming years, for the mutual benefit of both organizations.
In 2022, several visits were made to the Cadarache site (Bouches-du-Rhône) by foreign delegations, where IRSN runs various experimental platforms, testifying to the scientific benchmark role that these represent for the Institute’s partners. The German TSO GRS – with which the Institute maintains bilateral cooperation, including namely staff exchanges – visited the following platforms: GALAXIE (research into the fire risk in nuclear facilities), CHROMIA (radiochemistry research), MIDI (study of the dewatering of spent fuel pools) and ASPIC (study of the effectiveness of a spray system to cool a partially or totally dewatered fuel assembly). Other partners, such as the VTT Technical Research Center of Finland or the Slovakian engineering company VUEZ, also visited Cadarache to observe the operation of various IRSN research platforms.
The role played by these platforms in the development of scientific cooperation is illustrated perfectly by the relationship between IRSN and various Slovak nuclear safety stakeholders, in particular VUEZ engineering, with which the Institute built the VIKTORIA test loop located in Levice (Slovakia).
For 20 years now, the two organizations have worked in cooperation on the problems of cooling nuclear reactors in case of an accident. This cooperation is centered on the VIKTORIA test facility, built over 10 years ago as part of a joint investment and which has enabled numerous tests to be carried out to better understand the physical phenomena likely to occur during accidents involving the loss of reactor core cooling. This collaboration – and, more broadly, the importance for countries where nuclear reactors are operated to possess and share research tools devoted to nuclear safety – was at the heart of discussions conducted between IRSN and its Slovakian partners (VUEZ, the VUJE TSO, the UJD safety authority and the State Secretariat for Energy) during Jean Christophe Niel’s visit to Slovakia in April 2022. This dialogue continued in June, during a visit to France by the Secretary of State for Energy of the Ministry of the Economy of Slovakia, Karol Galek, during which the Director General of the Institute proposed additional collaborations with the Slovak organizations on the various research platforms, in particular concerning the safety of small modular reactors (SMR).
In 2022, the lifting of health crisis-related travel restrictions resulted in a renewed series of exchanges between IRSN and its international partners, particularly in terms of research and development. This momentum was boosted in particular by the French presidency of the European Union in the first half of the year, to which IRSN provided its contribution.
In recent months, four cooperative initiatives have been developed. First, in June, there was the visit to IRSN by experts from the Korean Institute of Nuclear Safety (KINS), during which experts from the Institute and those from the South Korean TSO swapped ideas on the methods and tools for assessing radiological discharges during a nuclear reactor accident. To this end, the Korean experts were trained in the use of Persan, a software developed by IRSN. In early July, the Director General of the Institute welcomed a delegation led by the President of the Polish Safety Authority (PAA), Łukasz Mlynarkiewicz, for technical exchanges focusing on training. In mid-July, Jean-Christophe Niel met up in Berlin with Inge Paulini, President of the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS), with which the Institute has frequent exchanges as part of the PIANOFORTE project. Following discussions on various topics, the two directors signed a letter of intent to confirm their joint desire to cooperate. At the end of August, in Washington, IRSN signed with the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (US NRC) the renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two bodies and, on September 1st in Ottawa, the renewal of the MoU between IRSN and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC-CCSN), both perpetuating bilateral technical cooperation in the fields of nuclear safety research and regulation. At the end of November, IRSN’s Director General also participated in the nuclear round table, chaired by the French President during his State visit to the United States, which promoted Franco-American cooperation in terms of nuclear safety expertise and research. The last quarter confirmed this renewed drive of cooperation, as illustrated by the various meetings organized in Japan in late 2022.
BILATERAL COOPERATION AGREEMENTS IN FORCE WITH RESEARCH OR EXPERT BODIES
COUNTRIES CONCERNED BY THESE AGREEMENTS
From November 28 to 30, 2022, a delegation of IRSN experts visited Tokyo for the 4th IRSN-NRA-JAEA seminar. After two years without contact due to the health crisis, this seminar enabled the many attending experts to visit experimental facilities of the Japanese Atomic Energy Agency (JAEA), to review the needs for safety research, to examine the progress of ongoing collaborations, to outline new avenues for research and, last but not least, to relaunch researcher exchanges, which have helped foster very close ties between the two parties.
Jean-Christophe Niel visited Japan at the beginning of December, where he chaired the 72nd Committee on the Safety of Nuclear Installations (CSNI) of the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency. During his visit, he took part in a tour of the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant, the TEPCO (plant operator) Decommissioning Archive Center, and the Naraha Center for Remote Control Technology Development. This trip to Japan was also an opportunity for bilateral meetings with various Japanese partners, such as the NRA (Nuclear Regulation Authority), Chiyoda Technol (dosimetry), and the Fukushima Medical University (FMU). IRSN has agreed to continue current collaborative projects with the FMU, such as those related to thyroid cancer or the BEERAD and KERO ecotoxicology projects, and to organize future exchanges of research personnel.