Project aims to advance knowledge around the environmental impacts of nuclear industry
Scientists across the world are becoming increasingly confident that nuclear technology can play a significant role in cutting global emissions before 2050.
Now a new international research project will explore some of the challenges which still need to be overcome in order for that to become a reality.
TITANS (Tritium Impact and Transfer in Advanced Nuclear reactorS) is a €3.8million project supported by an investment of €2.8m from the European Union.
It brings together 21 partners from seven European countries, who will work to improve knowledge on tritium management in nuclear fission and fusion facilities.
The project partners include the University of Plymouth which, along with the UK Atomic Energy Authority, has been given special dispensation to be part of the three-year EU-funded project.

The University’s involvement will be led by Professor Awadhesh Jha, one of the world’s leading experts in the environmental impacts of the nuclear industry. He said:
“Governments across the world are calling for an increase in nuclear power as a source of carbon free energy. However, there a level of opposition to that from various quarters and if the nuclear industry wants to secure greater public confidence people need to know it is safe. By understanding the potential impacts of tritium on humans and the environment, you can make the case for improved design practices. It is a significant challenge, but in bringing together some of the foremost European scientists working on nuclear fusion technology this project has the potential to start addressing it.”

<p>

Awadhesh Jha - plymouth pioneers<br></p>

Professor Awadhesh Jha

Tritium is a radioactive isotope of hydrogen and a by-product of nuclear reactors, but the University is one of the few organisations in the world researching its environmental effects.
It has previously worked with several partners on the TITANS project to assess how tritium particles are released into the atmosphere and their behaviour once there.
It has also published research showing that increased sea temperatures, coupled with the presence of tritium, could dramatically enhance and accelerate radiation-induced DNA damage in marine invertebrates.
As part of the new research, scientists in Plymouth will further their studies into the impact of tritium particles on marine mussels and – as a consequence – their potential to enter the human food chain.
Other partners will also then explore whether tritium can be absorbed through the skin and the impact it could potentially have on lung cells if inhaled.
The project will also look to improve modelling tools to assess tritium migration in nuclear fission and fusion reactors, how tritium is released during the dismantling of a contaminated setup, and develop a means of processing tritiated water.
Ultimately, the partners aim to provide a blend of robust science that can be used by the nuclear industry, safety regulators, radiation protection authorities and decision makers.

Dr Christian Grisolia, from The French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), is the overall coordinator of the project. He said:
“It has been a privilege and pleasure to collaborate with our UK partners in this project of scientific and societal importance. The significance of their involvement in the project has been duly valued by the EU, who decided to fund them exceptionally. Professor Awadhesh Jha is a world leading scientist in this field and we are looking forward to working together to further strengthen our collaboration and move the science forward.”

<p>Partners at the launch of the TITANS project</p>

Partners from across Europe at the launch of the TITANS project

Is the nuclear energy gamble worth it?

Nuclear energy is high on the agenda for many economically developed countries looking for clean, sustainable sources. It currently accounts for 20% of the UK’s power and over 70% in France - it is ready and available now and emits fewer greenhouse gases than oil or gas. But nuclear energy generates radioactive waste, causing a headache for governments in how to store and dispose of it. And the impacts of nuclear waste leaking into the environment are still not fully understood.

Awadhesh Jha
ecotoxicology lab photo

The Genetic Toxicology and Ecotoxicology Research Group

Working across a wide range of themes including cancer biology, radioecology, molecular and in vitro toxicology, ecotoxicology and aquatic biology

Find out more about the group and its projects