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Preparing for the future of the nuclear industry

To cope with the increased demand for qualified personnel in the nuclear sector, the Grenoble INP group now offers one of the most comprehensive trainings in France.

Centrale nucléaire (AREVA - Lasage Philippe)

Even if other additional sectors are being developed for limiting CO2 emissions whilst meeting the growing demand for electric power, the nuclear industry is retaining a prominent place in industrialised countries and is expanding in new countries. Grenoble INP has been providing training in various areas since 1955 to cover all the needs of the industry. On the one hand the focus has been on extending the life of existing plants at the same time as meeting all the required safety and reliability criteria; and, on the other, scientists are preparing for the future by contributing to developments in EPRs and fourth generation nuclear reactors.

Materials: the cornerstone of nuclear safety
For reactors that are currently in operation, mainly pressurised water reactors (PWRs or EPRs), the challenges largely take the form of security and safety. "The plants are real pressure cookers in which the structures are subjected to high temperatures and pressures, not to mention the damage caused directly by radiation, says Pierre Benech, director of Grenoble INP - Phelma. As a result, we have to monitor the development of current structures and prepare the materials for future plants". The MaNuEn (materials for nuclear engineering) master's at Phelma addresses expertise in materials, which is required for maintaining existing reactors and for optimising the use of fuel or storing nuclear waste. At the same time, the school will soon offer a module on plant dismantling and the optimised reprocessing of materials. Researchers have developed an electro-chemical process for "scraping" the surface of materials to reduce the volume of waste to be vitrified, and this will be taught as part of the electrochemistry and processes for energy and the environment (EPEE) course. Other options for reducing waste, such as fuel recycling, are also studied.

Nuclear reactors that are increasingly safe and efficient
The current plants will have to be replaced in the long term by Generation IV reactors, which will make it possible to comply with very stringent demands regarding safety, economic competitiveness, resistance to external aggressions and, of course, maximised waste reduction. Several options are being seriously considered: the first, chosen by the French government, consists of developing a new generation of sodium-cooled (or possibly gas-cooled) fast reactors. These would make it possible to recycle part of the waste produced by existing reactors into fuel. These reactors, known as "regenerators or breeders", use the plutonium produced by pressurised water reactors from the transmutation of uranium-238, which is a hundred times more plentiful than the uranium-235 that is used at present. The main advantage of this type of reactor is that it generates more fissile material than it consumes. Other nuclear reactions and other types of fuels are also to be envisaged: the scientists at the Laboratory for Subatomic Physics and Cosmology (LPSC) at Grenoble INP are particularly counting on thorium to replace or complement systems that use uranium. The research challenges are significant. Controlling energy production using thorium would solve all the energy resource problems for the next ten centuries and would naturally reduce the production of long-lived waste such as minor actinides. All aspects of nuclear physics and neutronics are addressed on the nuclear energy and engineering (GEN) course at Phelma.


Date of update April 23, 2013

Univ. Grenoble Alpes