JP Nuclear Materials – Vision
Nuclear energy has an important role in implementing the challenge of the Energy Union’s forward-looking climate change policy, by providing energy with very limited CO2 footprint at stable and comparably low prices, as well as a secure and reliable supply of base-load electricity. Nuclear power today fulfils these requirements, but two main issues remain, namely accident risk and long-lived nuclear waste. Sustainability is not adequate (less than 1% of the energy content of the fuel is actually used), but can be resolved by the deployment of Gen IV fast breeder neutron reactors along with the necessary fuel cycle facilities to extract reusable components of the fuel. Thus, the energy utilization of the fuel is increased and the radiotoxicity of the waste is dramatically curtailed. In this framework, the performance of nuclear (structural and fuel) materials is essential for the development of sustainable nuclear energy. Materials in fast reactors will be exposed to higher temperatures and higher irradiation levels than today's light-water reactors. Fast reactors also use non-aqueous coolants, for which the full compatibility of materials needs to be demonstrated. The Vision of the EERA JPNM in this context is summarised in three Grand Challenges to be addressed and resolved to take full advantage of the nuclear GenIV technology, with respect to safety, performance and cost, and to ensure implementation towards 2040:
- Grand Challenge 1: Elaboration of design rules, assessment and test procedures for the expected operating conditions and the structural and fuel materials envisaged. This involves deployment of infrastructures for relevant ageing phenomena and for testing of materials, data and knowledge, which is currently limited.
- Grand Challenge 2: Development of physical models coupled to advanced microstructural characterization to achieve high-level understanding and predictive capability: an asset, given the scarcity of experimental data and the difficulty and cost of obtaining them.
- Grand Challenge 3: Development of innovative structural and fuel materials with superior thermo-mechanical properties and radiation-resistance or, in general, nuclear-relevance, in partnership with industry.