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SOTERIA is improving safety of aging nuclear power plants

​To ensure the safe long‐term operation of existing European nuclear power plants, the H2020 project SOTERIA proposes a comprehensive research approach in order to enable nuclear power plant operators, as well as regulators, to better understand and thereby predict the ageing phenomena occurring in reactor pressure vessels and internal steels. 

Published on 13 June 2017
SOTERIA aims to answer the key industrial issue of operating existing nuclear power plants beyond the originally anticipated time frame. The knowledge and tools generated in SOTERIA will contribute to improving EU nuclear safety policy, increasing the leadership of the EU in safety-related equipment and information and enhancing nuclear power plant (NPPs) safety worldwide. As pointed out by Dr Christian Robertson, the project coordinator from CEA: “The overall ambition of SOTERIA is to allow nuclear power plant operators to move from reactive to proactive management of material ageing in nuclear plants, and of their operation”. Thanks to knowledge and tools generated in SOTERIA, “observation of ageing will no longer be the only way to adjust maintenance and follow-up procedures, but prediction will make it possible to establish appropriate surveillance. The operators will have new tools to decide on interventions. This also constitutes a major economic advantage, as it will be possible to better plan the suspension of plant activity for maintenance.”

Operating nuclear power plants safely during their whole lifespan: a must for society

As a matter of fact, the safety of nuclear energy has come back to the frontline of public debate in recent years as a result of events, such as the tragic accident at the Japanese Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in 2011, or the shutdown of the Doel nuclear reactor in Belgium in early 2015. Moreover, it is one of the major priorities of regulators and nuclear power providers to continue operating NPPs beyond the originally anticipated time frame. It is well known today that, in numerous cases, it is not only technically feasible, but also economically attractive to invest in upgrading existing NPPs in order to extend their originally planned service time. In other words, upgrading a plant for lifetime extension is less cost intensive than building a new plant, and upgrading can also result in increased power output and improved operational performance.

In order to guarantee a continuous safe long-term operation of existing power plants, it is a absolute requirement to get an improved understanding of the role of ageing phenomena in reactor structures, systems and components and to transpose this newly obtained understanding into reliable tools and methods for industrial stakeholders, as well as into guidelines for political stakeholders and future nuclear safety policies at national and European level. As an example, SOTERIA will allow for the materials properties most affected by irradiation, temperature or corrosion issues to be identified and the procedures used to assess safety criteria to be adjusted. 

Building on past collaborative work to improve today’s and tomorrow’s safety

To achieve its ambitious target, SOTERIA will provide further knowledge and tools to manage the ageing of nuclear power plants by addressing 4 specific technical objectives:
  • Carrying out experiments to assess neutron flux and fluence effects on reactor pressure vessels (RPVs) and internal steels in pressurized water reactors
  • Evaluating the residual lifetime of RPVs by taking into account metallurgical heterogeneities
  • Assessing the effect of the chemical and radiation environment on embrittlement in internals
  • Developing models for the assessment of ageing mechanisms in RPVs and internals and establishing an integrated computer-based platform, including new modelling tools
To achieve its goals, SOTERIA is also benefiting from two major previous European collaborative projects. 
  • The FP7 project PERFORM 60 developed a platform for a chain of modelling modules in order to describe irradiation-induced embrittlement. Whereas the modelling tools developed in PERFORM 60 were based only on model alloys and homogeneous materials, SOTERIA will work on irradiated steels too, which are industrially relevant materials in terms of developing support for lifetime management. 
  • The FP7 project LONGLIFE aimed to enhance the knowledge on long-term operation phenomena relevant to European light water reactors, assess prediction tools, codes and standards, including proposals for improvements, and elaborate best practice guidelines for reactor pressure vessel irradiation surveillance. SOTERIA will benefit from its large experimental database by integrating its results into its own research activities from the beginning of the project.
Moreover, SOTERIA is also closely working with other H2020 Euratom projects in order to create synergies.
SOTERIA combines a multi-scale modelling approach with smart experimental characterisations at appropriate scales. © SOTERIA project

SOTERIA combines a multi-scale modelling approach with smart experimental characterisations at appropriate scales. © SOTERIA project

 1 NUGENIA is the association dedicated to the research and development of nuclear fission technologies, with a focus on Generation II and III nuclear plants.

An end-user oriented approach

The End User Group brings together constructors, operators, research organisations, and NUGENIA1 members from Europe, the USA and Japan, all of whom are interested in the innovative tools developed within SOTERIA. By participating in this group, members will receive first-hand information and training and thus get the opportunity to evaluate the applicability of the SOTERIA tools in the industrial sector. They also have the possibility to define end-user case studies based on their own experimental data (as input for models or as variables of interest). By way of an example, very soon, on June 19th, the End User Group will meet at EDF premises for a presentation of the SOTERIAL digital platform.
Last but not least, the SOTERIA consortium is devoting special effort to ensuring the full dissemination and exploitation of its results and offering training opportunities. Thus, during the project, numerous events are to be held with key stakeholders, such as the IEAEA, the World Nuclear Association, POWER-GEN Europe, NUGENIA, etc. For instance, SOTERIA partners would be delighted to inform you about the project at the next IAEA General Conference (Vienna, Austria, September 2017) or the International Conference on Nuclear Power Plant Management (in Lyon, France, October 2017). 
Launched in September 2015, the H2020 project SOTERIA, which stands for “Safe long term operation of light water reactors based on improved understanding of radiation effects”, has received funding of some 5 million euro from the European Union. Set to run for a period of four years, SOTERIA is coordinated by CEA and brings together 24 partners from 10 European countries, including the most important players in the European nuclear field. Based on the partners’ complementary technical and scientific expertise, SOTERIA proposes a comprehensive research approach in order to achieve its ambition and thereby significantly contribute to the safety of today’s operating nuclear power plants in Europe.
Check the SOTERIA website: 

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