The EERA Joint Programme on Nuclear Materials (JP NM) has revised its scope and its structure, opening to new cross-cutting issues including aspects of circularity and life cycle assessment. The new JP's structure is based on four sub-programmes devoted to materials science approaches rather than specific materials classes.
Until recently, the Research and Development (R&D) within the EERA JP Nuclear Materials (NM) has been mainly oriented to establishing the materials pathways towards the design of fourth generation (GenIV) nuclear reactor European prototypes and then towards the corresponding commercial systems. However, it is now clear that the deployment of GenIV reactors remains fairly far in the future, while the climate emergency forces scientists and engineers to propose rapid solutions, using existing or at least rapidly developable technologies, rather than relying on long-term developments.
Small/modular reactors, starting from light water systems, seem to currently be the path to be followed in the direction of better flexibility and adaptability to different uses, in co-habitation and collaboration with renewables (hybrid systems, industrial and district heat, hydrogen production, …). In parallel, materials solutions that enable costs to be abated with equal or improved efficiency and safety, in the case of either the long-term operation of existing nuclear power plant or new builds, can contribute to making nuclear energy more sustainable, from all points of view.
Finally, aspects of circularity and life cycle assessment, that range from a closer attention to the supply of materials, the monitoring of material and component health in operation and recyclability or reusability, are necessarily becoming points of specific attention.
The EERA JP NM motto “increase the sustainability of nuclear energy by focusing on materials issues” requires, accordingly, a wider interpretation than only “materials for GenIV fast reactors”, motivating a revision of the scope, an opening to new issues, but also a rethinking of its way of functioning.
This opening to cross-cutting materials issues is reflected in the new structure of the JP NM. This new structure is based on four sub-programmes that are devoted to materials science approaches rather than specific materials classes. It makes the extension of the research portfolio to include new classes of materials much easier.