NCBJ Annual Report 2011
The National Centre for Nuclear Research (NCBJ) in Poland commenced operations on September 1, 2011. The Polish Government's decision to merge POLATOM Institute for Atomic Energy (IEA) and the Sołtan Institute for Nuclear Studies (IPJ) has ended an almost 30-year-long period, during which the Świerk Research Centre remained fragmented. The former Institute for Nuclear Research has been brought back to life under a new name and with a new set of tasks to accomplish.
These new tasks must first of all support the project to build a nuclear power industry in Poland. In an age of ever growing fossil fuel prices, the cost of electric power cannot be held low enough to maintain the competitiveness of the Polish economy unless nuclear energy is employed. Nuclear reactors are to be built in line with a proven design developed by one of the foreign manufacturers. However, the responsibilities for selecting technologies, to define and enforce safety criteria, to optimize and monitor operations all rest with the Polish investor, the National Atomic Energy Agency, and the research institutions that support it. Groups of young physicists and IT professionals in the IEA and IPJ Institutes have been intensely trained by experienced experts for two years now. Their responsibility will be to perform safety analyses, to simulate various events possible in nuclear reactors, and to evaluate the consequences of potential failures. The Świerk Computing Centre currently under development will provide a powerful computational infrastructure that will be at their disposal.
Almost every nation with a nuclear power industry runs its own research reactor. The available power and neutron flux qualify the MARIA reactor in Świerk as one of the better facilities in Europe. It is a very valuable tool to train new professionals, to conduct research, and to manufacture radioisotopes. The capability of studying the properties of various materials irradiated with intense beams of ionizing radiation is particularly valuable from the nuclear industry point of view. Therefore, material studies will be among the most intensely pursued research activities in NCBJ.
Besides providing day-to-day support for the nuclear power industry, NCBJ will participate in international research programs devoted to 4th generation reactors and thermonuclear fusion. Theoretical/experimental work as well as manufacture of subassemblies for the ITER reactor in Cadarache and the W7X reactor in Greifswald will be continued.
New technologies and hi-tech devices cannot be developed without pure research conducted on a world class level. We expect that the efforts invested in CERN (Geneva) to develop the LHC accelerator and the detectors used to register the particles produced will soon come to fruition as new discoveries in particle physics. Particles called neutrinos have recently stirred probably the greatest interest of physicists. It is just neutrinos emitted by the Sun that helped us to understand that the Sun's energy is produced in thermonuclear reactions. Neutrino experiments in which our physicists participate (e.g. the T2K experiment conducted in Japan) are still generating interesting results.
Elementary particles and gamma radiation arriving at our planet from deep space are a source of knowledge about the physical processes that accompany the birth and death of stars, black holes, and the evolution of the Universe. The Pi of the Sky experiment that observed the strongest explosion known to Mankind is currently joining efforts targeted to search for objects emitting gravitational waves. The combination of expertise on scintillation crystals used in gamma radiation detection and experience in conducting observations of cosmic radiation enables us to contribute significant input to the new JEM-EUSO, POLAR and GRIPS space missions. This is particularly important at a time when Poland is becoming a member of the European Space Agency.
Active participation in the above mentioned experiments consists not only in analysis of the data acquired, but also in the manufacture of essential hardware components, in particular accelerators and detectors. Worth mentioning are the structures of the LINAC4 accelerator that injects protons into the LHC, and elements of the electron accelerator for the XFEL machine (X-ray free electron laser), currently under development in Hamburg. We hope to make use of the knowledge acquired during participation in the above projects to develop the POLFEL free electron laser in Świerk. If developed, the laser would be the largest research facility in Poland. Particle accelerators and detectors find their applications not only in research. The Department of Nuclear Equipment HITEC exports medical accelerators for cancer radiotherapy and industrial accelerators for radiography of engineering structures. Accelerator-based machines for the detection of hazardous substances are currently under development. The POLATOM Radioisotope Centre manufactures radioisotopes, mainly radiopharmaceuticals for medical diagnostics. Production volume is already sufficient to meet practically the entire domestic demand. We are planning investments that would help us to deliver our products to a significant segment of world-wide markets.
We have started procedures to bring into existence a Science and Technology Park to streamline the deployment of technologies developed at the Świerk Research Centre to practical applications. Companies operating within the Park will develop the ideas of scientists using their knowledge and the research infrastructure of the Centre.
The National Centre for Nuclear Research with approximately one thousand employees will be the largest research Institute in the country. It will be active at every stage of the R&D process: fundamental research, applied research, development of new technologies, commercial manufacture of hi-tech materials and devices. Application of ionizing radiation produced by naturally decaying radioactive nuclei or produced in accelerators will remain the catchword of our activities. To provide support for the Polish nuclear power industry will be a special task.
Such a broad activity profile would not be possible without cooperation with other research institutes, Polish Academy of Sciences units, and universities. Numerous research subjects are already being accomplished by consortia grouping several research institutions. We have also signed nuclear-power-specific cooperation agreements with several universities. Concerns that a new, strong research centre in Świerk might monopolize the field in the country are a misunderstanding. Examples from other countries show that large research labs stimulate the field since they provide research infrastructure, generate research topics, motivate students, and engage scientists. It is enough to look at how Geneva/Hamburg University profits from the vicinity of the CERN/DESY labs, respectively.
The creation of the National Centre for Nuclear Research is a kind of break-through in Polish science. So far in our country there have been no equivalents of the National Laboratories that are such important elements of the US or European science landscape. It is difficult to imagine French science without Saclay, Italian science without Legnaro or Frascatti, Swiss science without PSI, German science without GSI, or British science without RAL. It will not be an easy task to match those potentates. However, we are not starting from scratch. We have had 55 years of experience and a rather long list of achievements. We have also gathered a substantial group of superb young people who grow fast under the supervision of our seniors. This is the best guarantee of a dynamic development for our Centre.
Professor Grzegorz Wrochna
National Centre for Nuclear Research