The work and achievements of SOTERIA are expected to have significant impact on several levels:
SOTERIA is expected to considerably contribute to the continuous safe operation of the existing fleet of nuclear reactors in Europe and thus help to achieve three major European strategic objectives:
ensure the energy production needs
reduce CO² emissions to half the levels reached in 2005
strengthen the nuclear workforce in order to meet future demands, by investing in education and training
By providing new information and guidelines regarding the long term operation of nuclear power plants to the relevant expert committees, SOTERIA will contribute to the development of national policies and decisions regarding the choice of future energy sources. In the same way, these guidelines are expected to be used by the nuclear regulatory bodies and safety inspection agencies to revise the criteria and procedures used for the assessment and the surveillance of reactor pressure vessel embrittlement and internal steels ageing.
Furthermore, the research carried out in SOTERIA will contribute to maintain the required skills to manage the long term operation in NPPs in countries having a strongly supportive policy for nuclear power. Efforts to understand, predict, and hence successfully manage the effects of long-term operation on the structural integrity of the plant safety related components are in the main focus of the industrial and academic activities related to nuclear safety. SOTERIA gathering the leading representatives from the nuclear research field and the nuclear industry from 10 different European countries, the project will significantly strengthen and complement the research efforts sponsored by national programmes.
Finally, the SOTERIA results will contribute to the improvement of nuclear safety for the remaining time of activity of existing nuclear power plants in countries where the nuclear fleet is under dismantling.
It is the responsibility of the nuclear power plants operator to demonstrate the safety basis for long-term operation, in particular with regard to the ageing of materials. SOTERIA gathering a critical mass of nuclear operators in Europe, this target group will directly benefit from the project’s findings on how to improve nuclear safety. Moreover, the results of SOTERIA will be useful not only to European operators, but also on a world-wide level, and more particularly with regard to American and Japanese technologies. As a matter of fact, the American and Japanese nuclear fleets, which make up for 61% of the worldwide power plants and pressurised water reactors, are from the same type as the European one.
SOTERIA optimises the industrial impact of its results by fully integrating the end users in its research approach (see Collaboration for more information on the SOTERIA End-User Group).
The main issues studied in SOTERIA are based on the main industrial challenges in reactor safety, as stated in two reports issued by the IAEA (IAEA Report, NP-T-3.11 ; IAEA Technical Report 448 ). Solving these issues will allow the nuclear industry to maintain and reinforce its leadership in the operation of their existing nuclear fleet and also in the design of new reactors, as the findings of SOTERIA will help in future reactor ageing management. The industrial partners involved in the project will guarantee that the SOTERIA tools and models correspond to industrial needs, and they will also ensure their implementation in the industrial context.
The results from SOTERIA are expected to have significant impact on the scientific community. Not only questions from the field of metallic materials of nuclear interest will be answered, but also some more fundamental and applied ones. Questions are linked to condensed matter physics, corrosion, metallurgy, modelling, as well as the development and improvement of modelling approaches and tools from nano- to microscale, whose improvement can be useful for a large set of application in matter physics, but also in chemistry. This will give a strong impetus to scientists to carry out further R&D activities on predictive tools which shall be useful for the utilities running NPPs, as well as for the future generation nuclear reactors.
Through innovative methods and tools developed in SOTERIA and the integration of knowledge carried out, the project results will allow companies to increase the reliability of safety measurements in nuclear power plants. Thanks to a proactive management of nuclear plant ageing and long-term operation, power plant operators will decrease costs related to a better planning of the suspension of plant activity for maintenance and to the reduction of the inspection time. This will in turn strengthen their competitiveness on the global energy market by replying in a cost-effective way to the increasing demand for nuclear power, foreseen by the IAEA for 2050.
SOTERIA will not generate any commercially exploitable results by the end of the project. However, industry partners will be able to improve internal processes and knowledge of material safety management, and the SME project partner Phimeca will be able to expand its services, by extending its knowledge in material modelling potentially allowing to access new market segments.
The SOTERIA results will have a significant economic impact: a better understanding of the ageing phenomena of reactor pressure vessels and internal steels will enable operators to reduce the time of reactor unit outage by improving maintenance procedures. SOTERIA will allow to identify materials properties most affected by irradiation, temperature or corrosion issues, and to adapt the procedures used to assess safety criteria. Moreover, increasing the safety of long-term operation will prevent accidents, which are always extremely expensive.
An important driver for energy policy is the commitment of most OECD countries to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide (CO2) from the burning of fossil fuels. Although this will partly be achieved by the increased use of renewable energy sources, nuclear energy is undoubtedly a major source of low-carbon electricity and its expansion can make an important contribution to reducing emissions. As is well-known, nuclear power plants produce no air pollution or carbon dioxide.
Although nuclear power plants do produce nuclear waste and use fuels, the comprehensive regulatory controls in place and the low public doses being achieved at reactors ensure that the radiological impact on the environment remains small even during a potential license renewal term. The expected increase in the volume of spent fuel from an additional period of operation can be safely accommodated. Special regulations to prevent these additional fuel volumes from harming the environment are in place. In fact, the benefits coming from a zero CO2 emission level are higher than from proper waste management. Therefore, by contributing to an increased safety of the existing European nuclear fleet, SOTERIA accounts for a twofold environmental impact: the reduction of CO2 emissions and the prevention of nuclear accidents.