After the events at the Japanese nuclear power plant of Fukushima Daiichi, the German federal government decided that Germany will give up electricity generation from nuclear power within a decade. The last reactor will be disconnected from the power grid in 2022. Helping to make this opt-out as safe as possible is one of the duties of the Helmholtz Association with its Nuclear Safety Research Program within the Energy Research Area. Also the demolition of nuclear power plants and the repository problem will keep society, and thus also research, busy for a number of decades to come.
Giving up electricity production from nuclear power thus must not mean giving up the required nuclear technology competences. In the fields of reactor safety, demolition, final storage, radiation protection, and crisis management, in critical support of international developments, and for competent evaluation of nuclear facilities around Germany, these competences will be in demand far beyond the German opt-out. This is the reason why the final report by the Ethics Committee on “Safe Energy Supply” emphasizes the importance of nuclear technology research. Close cooperation on national, European and international levels is indispensable in this effort. Also nuclear safety research in the Helmholtz Association is aligned with the challenges posed by the opt-out of the use of nuclear power. It is important that the high competences in the areas of plant safety and demolition, handling of radioactive waste, and safe final storage as well as radiation protection be preserved.
The Nuclear Safety Research Program within the Energy Research Area of the Helmholtz Association therefore will continue studying scientific and technical aspects of the safety of nuclear reactors and the safety of nuclear waste management. These research activities are provident research conducted for society and must be preserved for a long period of time. The work is closely harmonized with the activities of the partners in the Nuclear Competence Association. As of January 2011, the Dresden-Rossendorf Helmholtz Center (HZDR), with its 2 Institutes of Safety Research and for Radiochemistry, is an integral part of the Nuclear Safety Research Program within the Energy Research Area. Both institutes work on topics of safety research for nuclear reactors and safety research for nuclear waste management. In this way, the 2 institutes represent very welcome added value as well as a supplement to the Nuclear Safety Research Program.