Benchmarking Environmental Impacts of Nuclear Energy Systems:
INPRO Collaborative Project Launched

19 October 2009

Some 20 nuclear experts from 12 IAEA Member States met at the IAEA last week to launch an INPRO Collaborative Project that will investigate the environmental impact of innovative nuclear energy systems. In particular, radio-ecologists, biologists, chemists, physicists and other nuclear experts from Belarus, Brazil, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, India, Kazakhstan, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Slovak Republic and the Ukraine, who met at the IAEA, will develop and test benchmarks for assessing environmental impacts of innovative nuclear energy system.

Participants in the INPRO meeting on Environmental Impact Benchmarking for Nuclear Energy Systems
Participants in the INPRO meeting on Environmental Impact Benchmarking for Nuclear Energy Systems, held at the IAEA on 15-16 October 2009

"Protection of the environment is a major consideration in industrial activities in many countries and a central theme within the concept of sustainable development" says Gabi Voigt, Director of the IAEA Laboratories in Seibersdorf (near Vienna). Experts of the IAEA Laboratories are cooperating with INPRO on the Collaborative Project on Environmental impact benchmarking applicable for nuclear energy system under normal operation. "Nuclear energy supports sustainable development by providing energy that has a relatively low burden on the atmosphere, water and land use" says Ms Voigt. "The INPRO project is playing a unique role in the sustainable development of nuclear energy" she adds.

In order to enable a comparison of the environmental impact of different nuclear systems, predictive tools are required. This calls for a methodology for benchmarking such predictive tools.

Initiated by France, whose representative Mr. Eric Ansoborlo of the French Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) chaired this "kick-off" workshop, the INPRO Collaborative Project will consider environmental stressors and types of release of such stressors, e.g. through the atmosphere or water. The project will also investigate the type of contamination, which could occur, e.g. through inhalation or through the food chain (ingestion) and finally evaluate the impact of the radiation dose on humans under normal operation of a nuclear plant.

"We are focusing on normal conditions in this study" says Mr. Ansoborlo. "An accidental release of stressor will not be considered. The starting point is the source term, which means the inventory of a fuel reactor. At the workshop, we decided to choose nuclear power plants and nuclear fuel reprocessing plants as source terms". Specifically, the focus of the INPRO Collaborative Project will be on scenarios for existing nuclear power and reprocessing plants, also considering that these scenarios should be applicable to innovative nuclear energy systems in the future.

"As some hundred radionuclides may be present, the number of calculations could be relatively high. Therefore a ranking methodology for their environmental impact on human health is necessary" states Mr. Sungbong Kim of the IAEA's INPRO Group who is one of the scientific secretaries for this project, together with Paul Martin, Head of the Physics, Chemistry and Instrumentation Laboratory at Seibersdorf.

The expected results of this two-year collaborative project are, amongst others, a benchmark of assessment methodologies to rank radionuclides concerning their impact on human health; a comparison of the most important radionuclides and their environmental impacts when the source is a nuclear power plant or reprocessing facilitiy; and feedback on the practical application of the INPRO methodology in the area of environment.

The next meeting for the INPRO Collaborative Project on "Environmental impact benchmarking applicable for nuclear energy system under normal operation" will be hosted by France (CEA) in April 2009.

The INPRO methodology, which can be used to assess a country's existing or planned nuclear energy system, helps Member States to determine if their nuclear energy system meets national sustainable development criteria. The INPRO methodology encompasses seven assessment areas: economics, infrastructure, waste management, proliferation assistance, physical protection, safety and the environment, including impact of stressors and resource depletion.

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