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Strategic Energy Technologies Information System
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Results on Nuclear Fission

R&D investments in nuclear fission

An interpretation of the R&D investments broken down per technology as shown in the following needs to take into account the associated uncertainties described in section 'Analysis of uncertainties'. In specific cases these may be higher than the actual differences in the R&D investments between individual technologies, therefore impeding a direct comparison between different sectors.

Box 2- Euratom FP budget (indirect actions) on Gen IV reactors

In Euratom FP6 some €17 million were dedicated to 'innovative concepts' out of a total of €189 million for all fission-related research (i.e. less than 10%). This is support to pre-competitive research on the potential of Gen IV technology. The overall Euratom FP7 budget for 'indirect actions' in nuclear fission has not increased above inflation relative to FP6, and the programme retains its broad-based nature dealing with a number of priority areas in nuclear science and technology, some of which have little if anything to do with nuclear energy per se. Nonetheless, it is likely that Gen IV-related research will constitute a larger percentage of the total during FP7 than during FP6.

Within the context of the SET-Plan, research into 'generation IV' reactors is of particular interest. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to narrow down either the public or the private nuclear fission related R&D investments exclusively to research on generation IV technologies, meaning that the figures provided in the following are likely to be overestimated.1 In order to limit the overestimation, the main analysis refers to research investments in the area of nuclear reactor technology and the fuel cycle (to the extent that this was possible for the private sector). To simplify, this group will be referred to as  'nuclear reactor R&D' in the following.

Nonetheless, it was decided to also present figures on 'total nuclear fission related R&D', which besides reactor technology R&D also contains topics such as nuclear safety, environmental protection, waste management, fissile materials control (i.e. security issues), and a variety of other topics - some of which may have no direct relation to energy production. Figure 20 thus provides information on these total nuclear fission related R&D budgets as well.

These figures cannot be directly compared with the investments in any other technology assessed within the present report, since the R&D is for the sector as a whole whereas all other technologies focus on innovative "low carbon" aspects only (e.g. CCS research does not include any activities on coal mining, fossil fuel combustion technology, etc.). Even a comparison between the R&D investments of other technologies with those in 'nuclear reactor R&D' thus remains difficult without a clear idea of the generation-IV component. Besides, it should be remembered that generation IV is a refinement of a technology already responsible for large-scale low-carbon energy production. The nuclear industry is a well-established, profitable and high-tech industrial sector that, as part of normal investments in improvements and everyday developments in current technology, already devotes considerable resources to R&D on the nuclear fuel cycle in general and nuclear reactor technology in particular.

The difference between total nuclear fission R&D and reactor-related R&D is illustrated for the national public budgets in Figure 19- the difference between the two categories is accounted for by 'nuclear supporting technologies', which is excluded when focusing on 'nuclear reactor R&D'. There is some doubt, however, over the exact definition of the R&D undertaken and even the public or industrial attribution of parts of this spending. In particular, though some revenue is attributed within the public domain, it may originate from the sale of nuclear electricity or nuclear reactors / services. For example, it is known that the funding of R&D on waste management (in particular geological disposal) is supported essentially through the "polluter pays principle" (i.e. revenue from sale of nuclear electricity) even though funds are often managed in the public domain. More detailed analysis than was possible within the present survey will be needed in order to quantify such effects.

Result nuclear fission 1

Figure 19: Aggregated public support of EU Members to R&D in selected nuclear energy technologies in 2007

Source: IEA RD&D statistics

Note: Gap filling applied with data from back to 2003 as follows: 2006 data were used for Finland and the Netherlands while for the Czech Republic 2003 data were used. Note that only the total fission R&D is given for the UK in 2007 (€4.3 million); no nuclear R&D breakdown is available except for nuclear breeder in 2003 for the UK.

R&D investment in nuclear reactor R&D amounted to around €458 million in 2007, almost equally financed by the private (€205 million) and the public sector (€253 million). Both private and public funds largely concentrate within France. In 2007, France accounted for more than half of the total public budgets of EU Member States in nuclear-reactor related research. This result is to be viewed in the light of France's large share of nuclear generating capacity in Europe. i.e. ca. 50%. Other Member States directing important budgets towards nuclear-reactor related research were Italy, Germany and the Netherlands (though very little was related to generation IV).

Total investments in all nuclear fission related R&D (€1.25 billion) would be almost three times the part that is dedicated to research on nuclear reactor technologies. Corporate R&D investments account for 44% of this budget. 76% of the Member States funding come from France, which spends half of its total energy R&D budget on nuclear fission (again, must be viewed in the light of the 79% of domestic electricity consumption being of nuclear origin in France).

Result nuclear fission 2

Figure 20: Approximate R&D investment in nuclear fission  from industry and public sectors

Source: Own analysis based on IEA RD&D statistics and official information from some Member States; FP6; EU Industrial R&D Investment Scoreboard

Note: Some EU Member States are not IEA member and do thus not figure in the database; for others no data are available. Date for Slovakia, Denmark and Hungary cannot be displayed at the scale of the present chart. Note that it was not possible to narrow the analysis on 'generation IV' reactors. For this reason, a sub-group 'nuclear reactor technology' has been artificially created, which mainly ignores R&D dedicated to environmental safety, radiation protection etc., but is still much broader than pure 'generation IV'. No annual averages estimated for Belgium and Czech Republic due to a limited number of data.

Regarding EU funds for 'total nuclear fission', not only project-related funds under EURATOM have been included but also the JRC funds dedicated to nuclear energy.

The assessment of corporate R&D investments in nuclear energy is based on nine companies only, reflecting the limited number of major players in this sector. Similar to the public funding, French companies (AREVA, EdF, GDF-Suez to a lesser extent) largely dominate the total corporate R&D investments in nuclear fission. Unfortunately, for most companies it was not possible to determine the part of nuclear R&D that is dedicated to reactor technologies. Nevertheless, a rough estimate indicates that corporate R&D investment in nuclear reactor technology may be in the order of €200 million, while corporate research into all nuclear fission related aspects would amount to around €550 million. However, only a fraction of this will be on generation IV technology, reflecting unwillingness by industry to invest heavily in a technology that is 30 years away from possible commercial deployment and in a sector where there is considerable political and regulatory uncertainty. Consequently, most industrial players see this currently as the principal responsibility of the public sector.

This compares to the results of the ERMINE project, which estimated the private investment into nuclear fission-related R&D to be in the order of €304 million in 2004. Given that AREVA, by far largest spender in this area, saw an annual increase in its R&D expenditure of more than 20% over the past three years, the ERMINE result are relatively well in line with the present assessment.

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1 The concept of Generation IV is linked to particular objectives such as greatly increased sustainability and minimised long-lived waste production, increased resistance to weapons proliferation, a level of safety at least equivalent to the best achievable in current technology with emphasis on passive and intrinsic design features, and other uses of nuclear energy such as process heat for industrial processes, e.g. hydrogen production. It is these aspects that are of particular interest in the context of the SET-Plan. Most of this effort is currently at the stage of pre-competitive research.