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Field of research
|Nuclear science & technology|
|Director||Eric Van Walle|
|Eric Van Walle (director), Derrick Gosselin (chairman)|
SCK • CEN (Dutch: Studiecentrum voor Kernenergie; French: Centre d'Étude de l'énergie Nucléaire) is the Belgian nuclear research centre located in Mol, Belgium, more specifically near the township of Donk. SCK•CEN is active in various areas of research and services in the nuclear sector.
SCK•CEN is a foundation of public utility with a legal status according to private law, under the guidance of the Belgian Federal Ministry in charge of energy. SCK•CEN has roughly 750 employees an annual budget of €160 million. The organization receives 30% of its funding directly from government grants, 15% indirectly via activities for the dismantling of declassified installations and 55% from contract work and services.
Since 1991, the organization's statutory mission gives priority to research on problems of societal concern such as the safety of nuclear installations, radiation protection, safe treatment and disposal of radioactive waste, the fight against uncontrolled proliferation of fissile materials, and education and training.
SCK•CEN focuses on different topics in nuclear physics:
- Nuclear safety and radiation protection
- Medical and industrial applications of radiation
- The back end of the nuclear fuel cycle (nuclear reprocessing and management of radioactive waste)
- Nuclear decommissioning and decontamination of nuclear sites
- The fight against nuclear proliferation
To these domains SCK•CEN contributes with research and development, training, communication and services. This is done with a view to sustainable development, and hence taking into account environmental, economical and social factors.
SCK•CEN was founded in 1952 and originally named Studiecentrum voor de Toepassingen van de Kernenergie (Research Centre for the Applications of Nuclear Energy), abbreviated to STK. Land was bought in the municipality of Mol and over the next years many technical, administrative, medical and residential buildings were constructed on the site. From 1956 to 1964 four nuclear research reactors became operational: the BR 1, BR 2, BR 3, the first Pressurized water reactor in Europe, and VENUS.
In 1963 SCK•CEN already employed 1300 people, a number that would remain about the same over the next decades. In 1970 SCK•CEN widened its field of activities outside the nuclear sector, but the emphasis remained on nuclear research. In 1990 SCK•CEN was split and a new institute, VITO (Vlaamse Instelling voor Technologisch Onderzoek; Flemish institute for technological research), took over the non-nuclear activities. SCK•CEN currently has about 750 employees.
SCK•CEN's fields of activity go from the deep underground to outer space. The Centres research activities are concentrated into the following main tracks:
- Nuclear Materials Science
- Research is performed to improve the knowledge, understanding and numerical simulation of the behaviour of materials under irradiation, and from there on predict their performance. The aim is to develop, assess and validate new materials such as nuclear fuel, construction materials and radioisotopes to be used in nuclear applications.
- Advanced Nuclear Systems
- Extensive contributions are made to extend the present Belgian expertise in the field of developments related to GEN IV reactor systems and ITER. In co-operation with the industry and international research teams, R&D efforts are made to develop and test innovative reactor technologies and instrumentation. This will contribute to the construction of an experimental fast spectrum installation (MYRRHA), allowing a.o. transmutation processes to be performed.
- Environment, Health and Safety
- Next to specialised R&D in the field of a.o. radiobiology and -ecology, environmental chemistry, decommissioning, radioactive waste management and disposal, SCK•CEN also delivers high-quality measurement services such as radiation dosimetry, calibration and spectrometry. Policy support, decision making and research on the integration of societal aspects into nuclear research contribute to meet complex problems related to radiation protection and energy policy.
- Education and Training
- Throughout its more than 50 years of research experience in the field of peaceful applications of nuclear science and technology, SCK•CEN has also conducted education and training (E&T). The E&T activities at SCK•CEN cover a. o. reactor physics, reactor operation, reactor engineering, radiation protection, decommissioning and waste management. Next to courses, SCK•CEN also offers students the possibility to perform their research work at our laboratories and research reactors. Final-year students and PhD candidates can enter a programme outlined together with an SCK•CEN mentor and in close collaboration with a university promotor. Post-docs are mainly recruited in specialised research domains that reflect the priority programmes and R&D topics of our[who?] institute.
- BR 1 (Belgian Reactor 1)
- The BR1 nuclear reactor became operational in 1956. It used graphite as a moderator, natural uranium as a nuclear fuel, and air as the coolant. The BR1 was the first operational nuclear reactor in Belgium and was used for production of radioisotopes and research. The reactor is still operational today and it still uses the original fuel.
- BR 2 (Belgian Reactor 2)
- The BR2 nuclear reactor became operational in 1961. It works on highly enriched uranium and is moderated and cooled by water. The BR2 is still one of the most powerful research reactors in the world. The reactor is used for the testing of fuels and materials for different reactor types, and for the production of radioisotopes.
- BR 3 (Belgian Reactor 3)
- The BR3 nuclear reactor was a pressurized water reactor (PWR) that produced its first chain reaction in 1962. It was the first PWR outside the United States and it was used as a prototype for the construction and operation of later commercial PWR power plants. The operation of the reactor was stopped in 1987. As the first PWR reactor in Europe to be decommissioned, the decommissioning of the reactor was an important pilot project. The BR3 is expected to be fully decommissioned in 2011.[needs update]
- VENUS (Vulcain Experimental Nuclear Study)
- VENUS is a zero power reactor, that became operational in 1964. The reactor can simulate the behavior of neutrons in Pressurized water reactors and Boiling water reactors.
- The MYRRHA project aims to construct a subcritical Accelerator-Driven System. The project started in 1997 and targets to put MYRRHA in service in 2023.
- The Belgian Underground Research Laboratory, located at a depth of -223 m in Boom Clay. It allows the in situ characterization of this clay layer presently studied as a reference host formation for the geological disposal of nuclear waste. HADES acronym stands for "High Activity Disposal Experimental Site". HADES facility is operated by the EURIDICE economic interest group (EIG). The main tasks presently performed in the HADES facility are large scale demonstration tests. The on-surface Ophelie mock-up lasted 5 years (1997-2002) and was intended to study the thermo-hydraulic-mechanical behaviour of a bentonite buffer emplaced around a central heating tube simulating a high level waste (HLW) canister. Amongst other results, this experiment allowed to detect an important microbial activity in the bentonite buffer and in the water of the hydration system of the experiment. Concentration as high as 0.5 mM in dissolved sulfide and thiosulfate were measured in the water and microbially induced corrosion (MIC) was observed on stainless steel after the dismantling of the experiment. The next large scale in situ experiment is the Praclay experiment aimed at studying the thermo-hydraulic-mechanical behaviour of the clay formation at depth at the scale of a disposal gallery for a period of 10 years. The Praclay experiment is expected to start in 2012 after sufficient hydration of the hydraulic seal.
Increased risk of cancer
A study carried out between 2002 and 2008 found that children living within a 15 km radius of the Mol-Dessel nuclear area have a 2-3 times higher risk of developing acute leukemia. These findings were published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention by scientists of the Belgian Scientific Institute of Public Health and the Belgian Cancer Registry. There were some indications of a connection between the wind direction and the distribution of leukemia cases. This was addressed in a follow-up study.
Another study by the same authors saw a significant increase of thyroid cancer in children living near the Mol-Dessel site. No increased risk of cancer was found in the population living around other Belgian nuclear plants. These findings are supported by a similar study of the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection.
Although the number of children in the studies was small, Louis Van Bladel, radiation expert at the Belgian Federal Agency for nuclear control (AFCN) and co-author of the studies, said that further research`is needed in order to draw hard conclusions.
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- European Atomic Energy Community (EURATOM)
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- AD (12-09-2016) increased risk of leukemia in nuclear zone mol-dessel
- De Morgen (12-09-2016) Children have up to three times more common leukemia in Mol-Dessel