University Collaboration on Research, Technology and Innovation

NKM Section has two parallel (and complementary) initiatives to foster university collaboration in nuclear research, technology and innovation. The first, referred to as the “Green Frontiers Initiative” (GFI) is focused on facilitating and enabling international university collaboration for research in areas of nuclear energy with a vision of developing future nuclear technologies and their applications directly aimed at supporting sustainable development objectives. GFI will promote and foster university-driven R&D collaboration and the formation of research communities and networks. It will also foster R&D cooperation with national labs, research reactors and industry. The initiative will seek to identify the barriers to research collaboration and promote innovative incentives and approaches to overcome them.

Advanced nuclear concepts carry a high potential of solving our future sustainable energy infrastructure problems and of contributing reduce climate change. The global transition toward renewable energy and rapid emergence of distributed energy grids is changing the relative position and perceived need for nuclear energy in many countries. In the long term, significant innovation is needed to reposition nuclear technologies to achieve responsible, economic and safe next generation nuclear applications. It is expected that by 2050, there will be a significant need for small, economic and safe nuclear plant designs that minimize radioactive waste and that can support hybrid non-electric applications like energy conversion and desalination. Providing support for mechanisms for international research collaboration between universities and with research laboratories will help enable such institutions to establish the networks and achieve financial support for this research. GFI will encourage research that will accelerate the repositioning of nuclear energy and nuclear technology to be a vital part of tomorrow’s sustainable and complex distributed energy systems infrastructure. 

The GFI will focus on fostering the development of innovative future nuclear energy solutions and directly supports the IAEA’s mandate for sustainable and peaceful use of nuclear technology. It will promote cooperation and synergy within current research collaboration frameworks as well as encourage new approaches to collaboration in Member States on R&D and innovation between nuclear universities and with industry and government labs. Barriers to effective and sustained international collaboration have to be better understood and lessons from past experience incorporated. The GFI will aim to lay the groundwork for creating or strengthening research networks collaborating on a wide range of innovative topics, from safe designs and application of new technologies to new solutions on governance, economic considerations, and public acceptance, and in time hopefully contributing to overcoming many of today’s limitations on peaceful use of nuclear energy. GFI is expected to make use of existing mechanisms such as the establishment of leading universities as IAEA “International Research Collaborating Centers” to focus on advanced research in specific areas of technical specialization.

The second NKM Section initiative in the area of university collaboration on research, technology and innovation is a pilot programme being developed jointly with the Department of Technical Cooperation (TC) and focused on universities in developing countries. This programme is known as “Knowledge Incubation Centres for Science and Technology Adoption, Resourcing and Transfer” (KIC-START) and it aims to disseminate best practices in creating and growing university “technology incubation centres”. These centres foster investment in R&D and often lead to technology start-ups, occasionally as joint-ventures with collaboration partners in specific areas of research and innovation. They provide support and resources for researchers, including established academics, new graduates and post-docs. Incubators are driven by research and focus on industrial needs and opportunities. They enable advanced learning through research and entrepreneurship. Ultimately such centres aim to promote nuclear R&D investment in programmes that lead to a more robust and innovative industrial collaboration programme in the host country and contribute to maximize social and economic benefits.

Individual university-initiated research projects that start under either the GFI or KIC-START programmes are referred to by the IAEA as “Research Enhancing Nuclear through University Collaboration” (RENUC) projects and they may also become part of an IAEA Coordinated Research Project (CRP). IAEA is open to cooperate with other funding organizations to advance the goals and benefits of these programmes.

For more information please contact the Scientific Secretary J. de Grosbois at: NKM-Contact