As countries across much of Central and Eastern Europe make the transition to market economies, national science budgets are increasingly constrained. The situation is hurting the region´s nuclear research and development institutes, most of which are struggling to adapt to a new and much tougher funding environment beyond governmental support.
In some countries, the bottom line is that the long-term viability of nuclear institutes is under threat, which in some cases could pose serious safety and security concerns.
The changing scene set the framework for a recent inititative of the IAEA Technical Cooperation Department that sought to assess developments. Participants from two dozen countries met from 4-5 June 2007 in Vienna. The meeting - Science & Technology and Nuclear Research in the 21st Century: Strategies for Research Institutes in a Changing Paradigm of Science and Technology Policy and Funding - examined changes in science and technology and how they affect the nuclear research business, with a focus on Central and Eastern Europe.
Addressing participants, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei pointed out that "major forces are driving changes in science and technology". He said that the nuclear sector, like others, is not immune from the changes affecting the economy and society. "Science research and development has now become a much more collaborative international activity, and players in the nuclear sector are beginning to become aware of the changing environment," he said.
Participants included three IAEA Deputy Directors General - Ms. Ana María Cetto, Department of Technical Cooperation, who hosted the meeting; Mr. Werner Burkart, Department of Nuclear Sciences and Applications, and Mr. David Waller, Department of Management - and high-level policymakers, managers of research institutes, and representatives of the diplomatic community.
Speakers focused on a range of issues and developments. They included experience in Russia, France, Finland and Germany, among others. Keynote speaker Mr. Esko Aho, former Prime Minister of Finland, reported the findings of a consulting working group to the European Commission that he heads on Innovation in Europe, which covers practical policy guidelines in line with a vision on how to become a knowledge economy.
Representatives from other leading international organizations in science and technology - including the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Bank, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the European Commission - presented a range of views. Also presented were management success stories from the REZ nuclear institute in the Czech Republic and the Rudjer Boskovic Institute in Croatia. Funding aspects were addressed by a Venture Capital expert from Ernst & Young, while a representative from the International Council for Science reviewed the changing role of the Academies of Sciences.
Overviews of IAEA activities covered preliminary results of an IAEA survey of nuclear research institutes (Ms. Marta Ferrari); research reactor coalition-building (Mr. Pablo Adelfang); technical support organizations, partnerships and networking (Mr. Christer Viktorsson); and on infrastructure sharing as an important modality of nuclear research (Mr. Hans Forsstroem).