illustration chiffre un

RESEARCH

Research is an essential activity for IRSN, which devotes around 40% of its resources to it. This level of investment, maintained in 2022, has two main objectives. First, it provides the Institute’s teams in charge of assessing dossiers related to nuclear safety, to radiological protection of the environment, the public, patients and workers, to environmental radiation monitoring, or to human health, with new-found knowledge resulting from finalized research. This enables the teams to fulfill, in complete independence, their mission as public experts in radiological and nuclear risks, providing support to the public authorities in all these fields. Two, it involves looking further ahead, in an anticipatory or exploratory research approach, which is aimed at acquiring knowledge and skills in new paths or concepts, not only in terms of technology, but also in terms of organization.

Whatever their nature and scope – national, European or international – IRSN’s research programs are designed, for the most part, as partnerships in conjunction with universities, laboratories, technical nuclear safety organizations, etc. They are also integrated in schemes such as the Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection Research Program (RSNR) financed by the Investment Program for the Future and operated by the French National Research Agency or the European Commission’s Horizon Europe Research and Innovation Framework Program. Finally, in order to define its research policy and govern its programs, the Institute draws on two complementary bodies: the Scientific Council and the Research Steering Committee.


SHARING AND DISSEMINATION OF SCIENTIFIC KNOWLEDGE

THE RETURN OF IN-PERSON SEMINARS

An essential element of efficient research, knowledge-sharing between scientists is the subject of regular meetings which were able to resume in 2022 in person after a two-year interruption.

The Institute’s doctoral students met, as part of the 2022 Thesis Days, from March 28 to 31, to present the progress of their projects. This event was attended by 95 doctoral students, their supervisors, as well as representatives of partner organizations. In addition to providing a forum for exchange across the diversity of topics studied at the Institute, this event is an integral part of the doctoral students’ curriculum, allowing them to work on presenting their activities, in the form of posters for first-year doctoral students and orally for the others.

Taking the same approach, Thematic Thesis Days on nuclear fuel are organized as part of a four-party partnership between IRSN, EDF, Framatome and the CEA. Here again, this event allows doctoral students or post-doctoral students to present their work. The tenth edition of these Thesis Days took place in July 2022 in Pertuis. It allowed nine IRSN doctoral students to share the progress of their work, both experimental and theoretical, with more than 30 specialists in the field. This work includes innovative ways to heat fuel with lasers.

2022 also marked the return of Safety Research Day, on June 9 in Cadarache. In addition to the research teams, this event was attended by IRSN employees in the fields of expertise and strategy management. Dedicated to scientific excellence and innovation, Safety Research Day, through plenary presentations and discussions around some thirty posters, illustrated the main research activities, namely modeling, experimentation, and the development of scientific simulation software. It also contributed significantly to rebuilding collective participation, which had been undermined by the health crisis, and enabled scientists and technical experts to meet up and share on a wide diversity of research topics all with same objective in mind: improving nuclear safety.

In the more specific field of data science, the second SCIDONI (Data Science at IRSN) seminar on May 12 and 13 was attended by nearly one hundred IRSN employees, members of the community of practices dedicated to the management and optimized use of data. Event highlights included: an instructional session, technical sessions, and round tables on the integration of data science and the development of artificial intelligence. This seminar helped boost IRSN’s acculturation to data sciences and promoted cross-functional practices in this field.

Finally, as part of the technical assessment related to the deep geological disposal project (the Cigéo project) for high-level waste (HLW) and intermediate level long-lived waste (ILW-LL), IRSN organized a workshop in September on “natural fractures in clay formation”, attended by 80 international experts. The aims of this seminar were to take stock of the latest findings on the characteristics of fractures in clay soils and to identify what further knowledge, if any, is needed for modeling any associated water flows.

PERIODIC ASSESSMENT OF RESEARCH AT IRSN BY HCERES

Scheduled every five years for public institutions carrying out research activities, this assessment, as provided for by HCERES (High Council for the assessment of research and higher education), is in two parts: the assessment of the research units and the assessment of the Institute as a whole. For the assessment of the research units, the Institute had proposed and obtained the validation of its own external assessment body. This assessment was therefore implemented in 2018 and extended to a five-year plan providing for the successive assessment of the 15 thematic research groups (TRGs) created in line with IRSN’s scientific strategy. This concluded in 2022, with the assessment and the submission of the assessment report by each of the dedicated assessment committees of the last six TRGs: dosimetry; containment; radiobiology, radiopathology and therapeutic actions; natural risks, HSS activities; and aging of facilities and systems.

The Institute as a whole was assessed in 2022. To this end, IRSN drew up its self-assessment report and submitted it to HCERES on June 30, 2022. The assessment of the Institute continued with the reception of the Assessment Committee in Fontenay-aux-Roses from November 8 to 10, 2022. Around forty individual or collective interviews of IRSN representatives and its partners were held over these three days. The assessment process will be completed in March 2023 with the submission of the final HCERES report.

In Brief

REINFORCING COMPLEMENTARITY BETWEEN RESEARCH AND EXPERTISE IN THE FIELD OF NUCLEAR SAFETY

IRSN organized for the first time, from November 21 to 23, 2022, a series of encounters for expertise and nuclear safety research staff, as part of IRE (Integration Research Expertise) week: three half-days were devoted to research carried out within IRSN to support, assist, steer and anticipate assessment needs. Topics discussed included the behavior of PWR liners in severe accident conditions, fire propagation path studies, and the evaluation of leakage rates through cracked concrete walls.

The presentations fed into many exchanges between experts and researchers. They highlighted the high degree of collaboration between the teams, helping the scientists to improve their collective knowledge and better understand the context of their work, and the experts to soundly substantiate the conclusions of their appraisals.

These meetings were attended by more than a hundred of the Institute’s employees, both in person and remotely.

TRAINING THROUGH RESEARCH

In any research organization, training in and through research fulfills a fundamental mission of transferring the knowledge and skills acquired within its laboratories. For IRSN, training is also a key lever for managing its research programs and their development and, as such, it is given special treatment and attention.

IRSN’s training in and through research represents around one hundred doctoral and post-doctoral students, or almost a quarter of the human resources devoted to the Institute’s research activities. In 2022, 36 new theses were begun and 25 were defended.

The subjects cover a wide range of scientific disciplines – from physics to biology and social sciences – and the work contributes directly to controlling nuclear risks and protecting the population and the environment against radiological risks. Successive thesis campaigns are leveraged to commit to new fields, explore new scientific concepts or tools, and develop new partnerships.

In addition to its doctoral program, IRSN welcomes several young researchers each year on post-doctoral contracts. Hired for an average of 18 months, they often contribute to scientifically ambitious research projects. In 2022, nine of them joined the Institute’s research teams: six in connection with projects selected from the Horizon Europe or ANR calls for tender; one as part of a partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA); and two to carry out work supported by IRSN under its exploratory research program.

Given the special role its doctoral students play in its scientific activity, IRSN is particularly attentive to providing them with the support they need. They benefit from a tailored training curriculum, aimed at facilitating their learning from the research activity and more broadly laying the groundwork for their future career. The support offered includes, for example, workshops on writing scientific articles, advice on setting up a professional network, and training modules on the implementation of open access and openness to society policies, or requirements for scientific integrity.

Skill-building in communication and science popularization is also encouraged. At the end of March 2022, nine doctoral students took part in the “3 minutes for a thesis” eloquence competition organized by the Institute and broadcast live on its YouTube channel as part of the IRSN Thesis Days. Prior to this exercise, the candidates received training in public speaking.

In 2022, the Institute also gave its doctoral students a significant pay rise. Taking into account the objectives set by the research programming law, IRSN decided to increase this pay to €2,300 gross per month from September 2022, representing a pay rise of over €200.

At the same time, IRSN continues to boost its capacity to supervise doctoral students by encouraging its researchers to pursue accreditation to become research directors (HDR). Five HDRs were admitted in 2022, bringing the number of HDRs in the Institute’s ranks to 69.

citation
citation
Marie Frèrejacques,
Doctoral student winner of the 2022 “3 minutes for a thesis” competition with “An almost perfect toxic crime”

“3 minutes for a thesis” is an exercise that I would recommend to all doctoral students! It allows you to take a step back from your work and couch it in layman’s terms, so that you can explain what you do to your nearest and dearest, not to mention learning to talk in public. This is a really useful skill, including at scientific congresses where it is important to contextualize your discourse for participants whose areas of activity may be far removed from your own. It helps bring a presentation to life.

citation
Raphaël Gavart,
PhD student

It’s not easy to sum up three years of work in three minutes! You need to find the right level of vulgarization, and strike a balance between simplification and the development of complex notions. But it helps you learn how to manage your stress and to acquire effective public speaking skills. We were given training that enabled us to work on simplifying content as well as speaking in public. It’s a great learning experience.

SCIENTIFIC PARTNERSHIPS

STRENGTHENING ACADEMIC PARTNERSHIPS

To consolidate its position in the French scientific landscape and to increase support for its subjects of interest, IRSN has been working for several years on strengthening ties with the academic world. In addition to the long-standing relations it has with nuclear stakeholders and in particular the CEA, it has chosen to refocus its partnership strategy on a privileged relationship with the CNRS, Paris-Saclay University and Aix-Marseille University.

A common roadmap was established with the CNRS in 2022, in line with the framework agreement renewed at the end of 2020 between the two organizations. It entails stronger collaboration on six themes: alteration of materials, components and structures; earthquakes and ground-structure interactions; cross-disciplinary in situ research in the field of the environment; new nuclear techniques for healthcare; sensors and metrology; software platforms and simulation. Two cross-disciplinary fields are also concerned: sensors, measurements and their processing; codes and scientific modeling platforms. A specific management system has been set up to ensure the smooth running of this collaboration. Its objective is to combine the CNRS’s fundamental research potential and IRSN’s applied research capabilities to underpin the assessment of nuclear and radiological risks and contribute to meeting energy and healthcare challenges.

As for Paris-Saclay University, a framework agreement was signed in March. More specifically, it covers the fields of research involving the Institute’s teams in the Île-de-France region: healthcare, geosciences, and certain aspects of nuclear safety (neutron physics, aerosol physics, behavior of materials). In terms of training, the framework agreement enables the work of IRSN researchers to be optimized in the teaching programs of Paris-Saclay University and raises awareness of the Institute among students. Finally, the framework agreement provides for a shared approach to research facilities between the two entities, including future equipment.

Concerning relations with Aix-Marseille University, the Cadarache research teams have been working closely with three of the University’s institutes (ISFIN, ITEM and Institut Sciences de l’Océan), with additional contacts having also been established at an institutional level to prepare the implementation of a general collaboration framework in 2023.

HORIZON EUROPE: IRSN SELECTED FOR MANY PROJECTS

Euratom research projects carried out under the Horizon Europe program constitute an essential collaborative framework for IRSN and various European partners. In the field of protection of the public, the workforce, patients, and the environment against ionizing radiation, for example, the CONCERT-European joint program, carried out under the eighth H2020 framework program, has obtained results that underpin today’s PIANOFORTE research partnership. Selected at the beginning of 2022 by the European Commission, PIANOFORTE is a large scale project with 58 partners from 25 Member States of the European Union. Coordinated by IRSN, these partners share a common objective: taking the next step in the construction of Europe-wide radiation protection. In this spirit, the consortium running the project proposes an ambitious research program in multiple areas, such as the side effects of treatments using ionizing radiation, the differences in individual radiosensitivity, and resilience in crisis and post-accident situations.

PIANOFORTE is one of the two major partnerships led by the Institute, alongside ASSAS, a project designed to demonstrate, in the field of nuclear safety, the feasibility of a severe accident simulator using the ASTEC integral code. Developed and used by IRSN for its studies and assessments, ASTEC has become the benchmark European code in this field.

These two flagship projects are among the 15 proposals drawn up with the participation of IRSN and submitted to the European Commission, of which 11 were selected. This is a very satisfactory result and represents an allocated budget of €4.2 million for the Institute.
Find out more

SAFETY RESEARCH

The safety research conducted by IRSN in 2022 was largely devoted to the topic of severe accidents, with the launch of projects such as ASSAS in the field of simulation, the continuation of projects such as PERFROI focusing on loss of cooling accidents, and the closure of programs such as MITHYGENE and SAMYCHO in the area of hydrogen risk. Most of these projects are based on the use of different IRSN experimental platforms located in Cadarache (Bouches-du-Rhône).

The year’s highlights also included research into the safety of innovative concepts, such as passive safety systems, and studies in human and social sciences, for example on the conduct of complex projects and resilience.

SIMULATION OF SEVERE ACCIDENTS: IRSN COORDINATES THE ASSAS PROJECT

Launched in November 2022 as part of the Horizon Europe research program, the project entitled ASSAS (Artificial intelligence for Simulation of Severe AccidentS) dovetails with IRSN’s logic for developing the ASTEC code for assessing an accident’s source term. ASTEC integral code has become the European benchmark for the modeling of severe accidents.

With ASSAS, IRSN and its partners intend to go further by demonstrating the feasibility of extending nuclear simulators to the field of severe accidents, based on the ASTEC code. Plus, the prototype developed as part of the project can be used to train students, experts, and non-experts in nuclear energy. A simplified generic pressurized water reactor (PWR) model, like the ones used in the United States and Western Europe, will be available for training purposes. It will also include a graphic interface for controlling the simulation – in real time, or even in accelerated mode for certain phases of the accident – and for viewing the main phenomena unfold in a given severe accident scenario, including the phases inside and outside the vessel.

Drawing on the experience gained by the 13 project partners in severe accident modeling, nuclear reactor behavior simulation and data science, ASSAS will mobilize effective programming and parallelization techniques as well as artificial intelligence to improve ASTEC’s performance. The learning base, made up of severe accident sequences and used for machine learning (automatic training of artificial intelligence algorithms), will be shared in an open-source framework.

The simulator prototype will be the first step in the development of analytical or full-scale simulators extended to severe accidents. These can be used in the future to develop emergency response guides for severe accidents, to evaluate the performance of new safety systems, and to train operators in their use.

RESEARCH DEDICATED TO PASSIVE SAFETY SYSTEMS: IRSN LAUNCHES THE PASTIS PROJECT

The accident at the Japanese Fukushima-Daiichi power plant in March 2011 demonstrated, in certain extreme situations, the vulnerability of safety systems using equipment whose operation requires an external energy source or human intervention (particularly for reactor core cooling). Nuclear reactor designers are increasingly focused on this vulnerability, and propose the implementation of so-called “passive” safety systems which have the advantage of being controlled by natural phenomena – including thermohydraulics – generated by events occurring in a reactor, particularly in abnormal situations.

These systems are being built into the plans for most new SMR (Small Modular Reactor) concepts to manage potential accident situations, preventing them from turning into more severe accidents. Therefore, IRSN decided in 2022 to launch a thermohydraulic research program for passive safety systems called PASTIS (PAssive Systems ThermalHydraulic Investigations for Safety) in order to be able to evaluate the performance of these systems, when the time comes, with regard to safety requirements.

While pressurized water reactors already use certain passive safety systems – such as nuclear fission control rods, autocatalytic recombiners or safety injection system batteries –, some SMR concepts base their main safety system on them. The performance and reliability of these passive systems, as well as the physical phenomena on which they are based, must therefore be confirmed and investigated in the light of any accidents or incidents that may occur.

The research project designed by IRSN, and which benefits from a State subsidy managed by the National Research Agency under the France 2030 plan, includes two phases. In a first phase, from 2022 to 2025, an experimental platform composed of two facilities will be developed: a thermohydraulic loop called ALCINA (French acronym for “Analysis of natural circulation”), simulating the principle of a safety condenser and dedicated to the analysis of parameters influencing the natural two-phase circulation, and an enclosure cooled by a condensation wall called KoKoMo (“COndensation in a COntainment MOdel facility”), simulating the principle of a cold wall condenser and dedicated to the study of convective movements and coupled condensation-stratification effects in a submerged containment structure in a pool in an accident situation. The second phase of the project, starting in 2026, within the framework of international research projects, will be devoted to conducting experimentation campaigns on this platform, as well as developing thermohydraulic models and validating codes, for later use by risk assessment experts.

SUCCESS OF THE NEW PERFROI/COAL TEST CAMPAIGN

As part of the PERFROI project, a third COAL test campaign was completed in 2022, providing data on the resistance of fuel rods that have been pressurized and deformed by heating following a loss-of-coolant accident (LOCA) where the reactor core is unable to be cooled. Conducted using an experimental device developed by IRSN and installed in a thermohydraulic loop provided by STERN Laboratories in Canada, this third campaign will add to the experimental database (which compiles the results of 82 tests in total). The results of these tests will make it possible to validate and improve DRACCAR software, developed by IRSN to simulate the behavior of nuclear fuel during a LOCA and used in the assessment process.

Performing high temperature testing was one of the technological challenges of the COAL program. Special heating rods were designed for this purpose, enabling a total of eight experiments to be carried out above 1,000°C without any damage to the rods and with little loss of thermocouples: a noteworthy technical feat!

FIRE INVESTIGATION: CLOSURE OF THE PRISME 3 PROJECT

The PRISME 3 project is the third phase of PRISME’s international research program, dedicated since 2006 to studying fires and their spread vectors in confined and ventilated premises typical of a nuclear facility. PRISME 3 testing was conducted in the GALAXIE experimental platform facilities, implemented by IRSN in Cadarache (Bouches-du-Rhône), to gain more in-depth knowledge in three areas: the spread of smoke and fumes during a fire in a multi-compartment facility, the spread of an electrical cabinet fire to nearby electrical cabinets, and the spread of fire along cable trays.

The closing seminar for this project, run since 2017 under the aegis of the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD/NEA), was held at the end of October in Cadarache and attended by 12 partners from eight countries. Discussions around the PRISME 3 project summary report showed that while some results – such as the identification of different fire propagation paths between an electrical cabinet and other cabinets – were directly transposable for safety assessments, others highlighted the current limitations of simulation tools and the need to significantly increase the scope of their validation areas. This is the role assigned to the Fire risk Assessment through Innovative Research (FAIR) project led by IRSN, which is scheduled to be launched in 2023, again under the aegis of the NEA.

COMMISSIONING OF THE FUEL+ SOFTWARE PLATFORM

The objective of the FUEL+ software platform is to model the behavior of nuclear fuel under normal and abnormal (incident / accident) operating conditions in reactors as well as during storage in spent fuel pools and transport for reprocessing. Designed along the principle of pooling and coupling different software solutions developed by IRSN, such as SCANAIR and DRACCAR, the FUEL+ platform makes it possible to model all thermomechanical, thermochemical and thermohydraulic phenomena occurring in and around nuclear fuel and its cladding on the scale of the fuel rod, the assembly, or the reactor core.

CLOSURE OF THE MITHYGENE AND SAMHYCO-NET PROGRAMS

Two IRSN research projects related to the hydrogen risk were completed in 2022. Funded by the Government as part of the Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection Research Program (RSNR), the first, called MITHYGENE, made it possible to develop and qualify under “severe accident” conditions a prototype for measuring the concentrations of gases in the containment atmosphere in phases inside and outside the vessel during a severe accident in a reactor. It also involved implementing and analyzing tests on the impact of the location of passive autocatalytic recombiners, hydrogen combustion, and flame-structure interaction. These test results have had several impacts: enabling the operator, EDF, to consolidate the rules for placing recombiners in the containment, improving the tools used to assess the hydrogen risk, and establishing recommendations for better management of spray cooling in the event of a severe accident.

The second, called SAMHYCO-NET, is an international project coordinated by IRSN and backed by the European NUGENIA research platform for generation II and III reactors. It has helped improve knowledge of the behavior of recombiners subjected to atmospheres representative of the late phases of a severe accident, during the interaction between corium and concrete in the reactor pit, as well as to the combustion of hydrogen and carbon monoxide mixtures.

MITHYGENE and SAMHYCO-NET have made a major contribution to underpinning the competences of IRSN and its partners in the field of hydrogen risk.

CRITICALITY RESEARCH: THREE MAJOR ADVANCES FOR THE PRINCESS PROJECT

Conducted within the framework of international partnerships, the PRINCESS project was developed to acquire experimental data in neutron physics and criticality. To this end, three major experiments were conducted in the United States in 2022. The first concerns neutron noise measurements, which used the IRSN detection chain for the first time. The second consists of a dosimetry exercise providing practice in assessing the doses received by workers in the event of a criticality accident. The last is a criticality experiment carried out specifically for the needs of IRSN, building on the MIRTE program which was carried out in France from 2008 to 2013 to learn more about the neutron characteristics of certain nuclides present in the structural materials used in the nuclear fuel cycle.

citation
citation
Céline Poret,
Researcher in human and social sciences
citation
Alexandre Largier,
Researcher in human and social sciences

RESEARCH IN HUMAN AND SOCIAL SCIENCES: INVESTIGATING COMPLEX PROJECT MANAGEMENT AND RESILIENCE

Changes in the industrial environment have led IRSN to focus on the issues of managing complex projects and resilience in the fields of nuclear safety and radiation protection from the perspective of the organizational and human factors. Céline Poret and Alexandre Largier, researchers in human and social sciences at the Institute, explain.

What questions do you think are raised by the impact of transformations seen in the industrial environment from the point of view of managing projects in the nuclear sector?
Céline PoretTo address these developments, which demand reactivity and flexibility, the various industrial sectors have built process-based organizations. This means working in project management mode and cooperating within the framework of supply chains (suppliers, subcontractors, etc.). These “crosscutting” organizational configurations call into question the hierarchical and functional structure of traditional organizations and raise questions in human and social sciences. One of these questions we need to explore is how the different dimensions of performance – including nuclear safety, the safety of patients and radiation protection – are constructed and maintained in organizations characterized by the multi-distribution of activities: spatial, temporal, multi-enterprise, etc.

How is IRSN addressing this new complexity?
CP Through our  “Management of complex cooperations” research program, we are trying to understand the mechanisms behind the fact that the interactions between various actors and the end result in terms of performance cannot be expressed as a simple sum of contributions. This program includes projects that focus both on various organizational configurations and different performance dimensions. Some organizational configurations feature activities that overlap in a distributed manner over space and time, such as the manufacture of large forged and molded parts or the preparation of radiation therapy treatments, while others feature activities that overlap in the same space, such as the northern extension of line 14 of the Paris Metro or the CIGEO project for geological disposal of nuclear waste. Therefore, some projects are designed to study how nuclear safety is constructed and maintained in these organizations, while others focus on radiation protection and/or patient safety

What is meant by “resilience” in the nuclear domain?
Alexandre LargierThe notion of resilience, albeit relatively recent in the field of risk control, is increasingly present in the day-to-day activities of companies and, more broadly, of society as a whole. Activities in the fields of nuclear safety and radiation protection are no exception. Resilience, which has become an important concept in risk management, involves a paradigm shift which will extend beyond risk prevention approaches. In order to make the greatest possible contribution to managing these risks, we must identify the conditions under which this concept needs to be mobilized and how it ties in with concepts such as robustness and anticipation, or other concepts developed in human and social sciences, such as adjustment or adaptation. In July 2022, IRSN took part in the 56th congress of SELF — the French-language Ergonomics Society, devoted to vulnerabilities and emerging risks — where it presented an analysis whose main conclusion was that the spectrum of resilience needed to be reduced in order for its use to be pertinent. In the field of nuclear safety, resilience could be defined as the capacity of a socio-technical system to adapt to a range of abnormal, degraded, and critical situations, by developing anticipatory, response, and recovery capacities at different organizational levels, for dealing with unexpected events.

HEALTH-RELATED RESEARCH

2022 was a year of major advances on a European scale in matters of radiation protection, with the launch of the PIANOFORTE partnership project and the publication, as part of the MEDIRAD project, of recommendations for strengthening radiation protection for patients and medical staff. Other highlights include the continued rollout of new methods of administering stable iodine to better protect the population in the event of releases of radioactive iodine.

PIANOFORTE, A SHARED VISION OF THE FUTURE OF RADIATION PROTECTION

Selected by the European Commission and coordinated by IRSN, the PIANOFORTE research project marks a new stage in the construction of radiation protection for Europe. With 58 partners representing 22 European Union countries, the United Kingdom, and Norway, and coordinated by IRSN, it is co-financed by the EURATOM program and the Member States.

This project embodies a shared vision of the future of radiation protection within the framework of Horizon Europe, the EU framework program for research and innovation for the period 2021-2027. PIANOFORTE succeeds the European CONCERT program for radiation protection research and translates the common vision of radiation protection bodies and platforms into programmatic terms.

PIANOFORTE will contribute to European policies on priority topics such as fighting cancer, health protection in the face of environmental risks, and improving anticipation and resilience in disaster situations. To ensure effectiveness, multidisciplinary research will be favored, and research projects will focus on clearly identified priorities and be selected through calls for proposals.

In fact, between 2023 and 2025, three calls for proposals will be organized. Open to the entire European radiation protection research community, these will focus on four themes:

  • Improving radiation protection for patients in relation to the use of ionizing radiation in the medical field
  • Better understanding the variability of the individual response to exposure to ionizing radiation
  • Studying the mechanisms at work during chronic exposure to low doses of ionizing radiation
  • Improving anticipatory and resilience capacities in nuclear or radiological crisis situations and post-accident management.

The involvement of stakeholders (authorities, civil society, radiation protection practitioners, experts, etc.) will be requested and endorsed when defining the scientific topics that will be the subject of the calls for proposals. Another goal of this partnership is to build bridges with “non-Euratom” research activities carried out on the European level, especially in the field of healthcare.

The PIANOFORTE kick-off meeting was held on June 14 and 15, 2022. It was attended by some 100 participants, reflecting the ambitious scope of this program. This meeting allowed the partners to start working on the methodology in order to prioritize the research themes that will lead to calls for proposals, the first of which is to be published in April 2023.

MEDIRAD: RECOMMENDATIONS FOR BETTER RADIATION PROTECTION

Launched in 2017 and scheduled to run for five years, the European MEDIRAD project has led to the development of recommendations for optimizing the use of ionizing radiation in the medical field and improving radiation protection for patients and healthcare professionals.

Financed under the EURATOM H2020 research program for five years and coordinated by ISC Global (Spain) and the University of Paris Descartes, the European MEDIRAD project mobilized 33 partners from 14 European Member States.

Its purpose was to narrow the gap between scientific and medical communities in the field of medical radiation protection research and to optimize the use of ionizing radiation in radiotherapy, nuclear medicine, medical imaging, and interventional radiology. The project also promoted links between science, medicine, and society to improve quality of life for patients and better protection for healthcare professionals.

As a major contributor to this project, IRSN participated in MEDIRAD’s work in three areas of medical applications of ionizing radiation:

  • In radiotherapy, where research focused on assessing the risks of cardiac toxicity associated with radiotherapy for breast cancer and optimizing practices
  • In interventional radiology, and more particularly radiation protection for healthcare professionals and practice optimization.
  • In medical imaging, with the assessment of the cancer risk associated with pediatric computed tomography.

Based on their scientific results, IRSN coordinated the development phase of a set of radiation protection recommendations with support from stakeholders: patient associations, healthcare professional associations, and competent radiation protection and industrial authorities in the medical sector. These recommendations are divided into four areas: the consolidation of “patient” databases at the European level; the optimization of diagnostic or therapeutic protocols involving radiation; optimization for the radiation protection of patients and healthcare staff; and European avenues of research for radiation protection in medicine.
Medirad Project

In Brief

STABLE IODINE PROPHYLAXIS AND POPULATION PROTECTION

As part of the PRIODAC research project – initially run under the RSNR program and designed to determine new methods of administration for stable iodine (KI-65 mg) to better protect the population in the event of repeated releases of radioactive iodine –, an extension application for the marketing authorization (MA) for repeated administration in the category of pregnant women was filed in October 2022 by the Central Pharmacy of the Armed Forces. Coordinated by IRSN, this project has already led to an initial amendment of the MA for repeated administration for up to 7 consecutive days for people over 12 years of age.

ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH

In 2022, IRSN environmental research featured projects addressing a wide range of issues: the impact of environmental contamination on the marine environment and terrestrial ecosystems following a nuclear accident, the ecotoxicology of radionuclides, the management of radioactive waste.

GEOLOGICAL DISPOSAL: IRSN LAUNCHES VSEAL EXPERIMENTATION

Within the framework of its expertise missions for the CIGEO project on the geological disposal of high-level and intermediate-level long-lived radioactive waste (HL-ILW-LL), IRSN is conducting research focusing on the durability of seals. The objective of this research is to enable IRSN teams to assess, as part of the assessment of the safety dossiers drawn up by Andra (French National Agency for Radioactive Waste Management), how effectively the selected sealing techniques ensure a crucial containment function for this type of waste over a very long time period.

In 2022, the Institute initiated the VSEAL project, conducted in its underground research laboratory in Tournemire (Aveyron). The aim of this project is to observe how airtight a seal remains over a period of fifteen years, studying the impact of run-off water and the hydrogen that would be produced by stored waste. This seal is made from a type of clay with high swelling capacity called bentonite, the material chosen to seal the CIGEO facility at the end of its operating period.

VSEAL illustrates IRSN’s ability to translate scientific and technical questions into a research program incorporating technological trials, effectively preparing for future assessments.

CLOSURE OF THE AMORAD PROJECT: THE MAIN TAKEAWAYS

The aim of the AMORAD project, launched in France in 2013 as part of the Nuclear Safety and Radiation Protection Research (PIA RSNR) program, is to improve the models for assessing the dispersion of radionuclides in the environment and their impact on the marine environment and terrestrial ecosystems following an accident such as that of Fukushima-Daiichi. In addition to several national partners (Andra, BRGM, CNRS, EDF, Ifremer, LSCE, Universities of Bordeaux, Pau, Toulon, Toulouse and Versailles), the project involved the Japanese University of Tsukuba.

Two areas of research were selected for the project. The first focused on the marine and coastal dispersion of sedimentary particles and dissolved radionuclides, their transfer into the food chain, and the development of approaches to assess the environmental and economic vulnerability of coastal areas in the presence of release. The second addressed the impact of contamination on terrestrial environments, focusing on the soil-tree-forest system and the transfer of radionuclides from the soils of a drainage basin to the sea.

An extension of the project, called AMORAD II, was launched in 2019 with two objectives. The first involved acquiring additional data from Fukushima and French forests in order to move forward on a soil-tree transfer model. The second objective was to develop a multi-model approach to assessing the costs associated with the loss of economic resources following a nuclear accident. The closing seminar, attended by the 13 partners in 2022, enabled us to draw up our conclusions and identify some major takeaways.

Concerning the simulation of radionuclides dispersion in the terrestrial and marine environment along with the evaluation of the associated concentrations, AMORAD made it possible to refine existing models and create new ones. Examples include: more realistic simulation of river delta or estuary depositions; integration of the medium-term effect of deposition processes and re-suspension in coastal zone sediment transport models; creation of an expert system to trace the possible origin of a release in the event of abnormal radionuclide measurements in a given area; development of a model for assessing the flows of radionuclides that can leach from a drainage basin to a river after atmospheric fallout, etc.

Concerning the assessment of the costs of an accident, another major part of the AMORAD project, two assessment modules were created describing the economic losses sustained by the timber and offshore fishing sectors in the event of post-accident releases and/or fallout. The results highlight for the first time the extent of economic damage that could be associated in particular with the losses of ecosystem-dependant services (hunting, harvesting, drinking water) in the event of an accident, and which will now need to be assessed more precisely.

Certain AMORAD results can be leveraged for recommendations to the public authorities on the post-accident management doctrine of a nuclear accident.

RADIOACTIVE ENVIRONMENTAL CONTAMINATION: WHAT ARE THE LONG-TERM EFFECTS ON BIODIVERSITY?

Contamination of the environment with radioactive substances and the associated risks to biodiversity are the subject of extensive societal and scientific debate. Many unknowns contribute to controversies on the ecological effects of this type of contamination, and therefore delay implementation of environmental protection criteria. In this context, one of IRSN’s missions, in its capacity as a public expert in research and on nuclear and radiological risks, is to provide scientific evidence to support arguments in this debate. That is why, in June and July 2022, the Laboratory of Ecotoxicology of Radionuclides (LECO) conducted, in the Fukushima Prefecture, field and laboratory research, in partnership with the Institute of Environmental Radioactivity (IER) of the University of Fukushima.

A first project led by IRSN, entitled KERO, aims to understand and measure the long-term consequences of radioactive contamination of the environment on wildlife, through a sentinel species, the Japanese tree frog (Dryophytes japonicus). Several institutes and universities (Aix-Marseille, Fukushima, Hiroshima, Lyon 1, Paris-Saclay) are working together on this project which is financed by IRSN as well as through other funding programs (NEEDS, ECCOREV, EC2CO, ERAN Japan, etc.). The project addresses several questions: what are the impacts of radiation contamination on these frogs (physiology, behavior, etc.)? How can these individual effects lead to population-wide impacts? How are these populations developing in these regions? Are they able to adapt? Such evolutionary issues are still neglected by the scientific community despite strong expectations from experts in the field of environmental regulation and from the general public. Indeed, several years after the Chornobyl and Fukushima nuclear accidents, the same question often arises: how is the wildlife actually “doing”? How are species developing in these radiation-contaminated territories?

A second project, called BEERAD, looks at the western honeybee, Apis mellifera, from several scientific perspectives (ecological, economic and societal). This choice reflects the importance of the services provided to humans and ecosystems, especially the bee’s role in the pollination of flowering plants. Financed by the ANR as well as by other programs (ECCOREV, ERAN), the BEERAD project is coordinated by IRSN with the participation of the INRAE center in Avignon and the IER. This project uses a multidisciplinary approach to gain deeper knowledge of the effects and action mechanisms of ionizing radiation on the physiology and populations of the western honeybee in the context of chronic exposure (exposure of a significant duration compared to the lifetime of the organisms exposed) at low dose rates. This involves conducting experiments, one, in the laboratory, using IRSN’s Micado-Lab and MIRE irradiation platforms, and two, in the field, by installing beehives in the Fukushima Prefecture, which will be monitored throughout two seasonal cycles.

KERO and BEERAD are two original and innovative research projects. They will provide new-found knowledge to help reduce current uncertainties in ecological risk assessment and to evaluate the robustness of environmental radiation protection criteria to ensure the good ecological condition of ecosystems.

citation
citation
Elisabeth Salat,
Deputy head of the radioactive waste management and transfers in the geosphere department (SEDRE)

RADIOACTIVE WASTE MANAGEMENT: IRSN, HOST OF THE ANNUAL MEETING OF THE EUROPEAN EURAD PROGRAM

Radioactive waste management is one of the areas in which IRSN is pursuing international cooperation, namely within the framework of the European Joint Research Program, EURAD. Elisabeth Salat, deputy head of the Institute’s Radioactive Waste and Transfers in the Geosphere department (SEDRE), reviews the program’s objectives and recounts the highlights of the annual meeting, hosted by IRSN from March 28 to 30, 2022 in Fontenay-aux-Roses (Hauts-de-Seine).

What is the European EURAD program?
It is a joint research program worth around €60 million, launched in 2019 for a period of five years by the European Commission who also funds 50% of the program. This program has 51 beneficiaries – including IRSN and Andra, the project coordinator – from 23 European countries, all eager to extend their cooperation in terms of research into management and, especially, disposal of radioactive waste. To achieve this, EURAD is based on the implementation of a sustainable research and development program, and leveraging and transferring previously acquired knowledge. The program also promotes mutual understanding and trust between, on the one hand, the scientific and technical partners, and, on the other, stakeholders in civil society.

Who are the main partners?
They can be divided into three broad categories: first, radioactive waste management bodies, such as Andra in France, responsible for implementing solutions for radioactive waste disposal. Then there are the technical assessment bodies, such as IRSN, which carry out research activities to reinforce the scientific and technical foundations of their expertise missions which provide support for decisions made by the public authorities. Third, there are the research organizations and universities working to varying degrees on the challenges of radioactive waste management.

What are the main conclusions of the annual meeting held at IRSN?
I would like to point out that this meeting, organized in collaboration with Andra, was the first opportunity for all program partners to meet in the same place, after the health crisis. The main theme of this event was knowledge management: how to capitalize on knowledge in the field of radioactive waste management, share it, and identify the areas in which more in-depth investigation is required. A number of topics emerged from our discussions, such as the use of “digital twins” to centralize the results of various research projects. In fact, this topic will be developed further and integrated into future research programs.