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null The SAFIR2018 research programme improves nuclear safety even further

The SAFIR2018 research programme improves nuclear safety even further

22 Mar 2019 17:12

The national research programmes on nuclear safety have served to improve Finnish nuclear safety for almost three decades. Since 2003, the programmes have been called SAFIR (Safety of Nuclear Power Plants – Finnish National Research Programme). The results of the SAFIR2018 research programme that ended at the end of 2018 were presented in a two-day seminar at Hanasaari, Espoo on 21–22 March.

The objective of the SAFIR research programmes is to ensure that the authorities have sufficient skills and expertise on matters related to the operation of nuclear power stations. Launched in 2015, the four-year SAFIR2018 programme spent 209 person-years on nuclear safety research and published over 1,000 publications. The research work also served as a training ground for new Finnish experts and helped the existing experts to maintain and develop their skills.

A total of EUR 30 million was spent on research projects under the SAFIR2018 programme in 2015–2018. An additional EUR 16 million was spent on equipment investments and the construction of a laboratory at VTT Centre for Nuclear Safety.

“This is a research programme run by an authority and it serves the needs of the authority,” states the chairperson of the SAFIR2018 steering committee, Maija-Leena Järvinen, who is also a Principal Advisor at Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority. There are of course other parties that also benefit from the research, such as other authorities, universities, research institutions and nuclear power companies.

The SAFIR research projects have enabled many STUK experts to increase the level of their expertise, which means that the benefits of the research programme manifest themselves in the daily operations of STUK and supervision of nuclear safety in Finland.

SAFIR opens international doors

International co-operation in nuclear safety research is a necessity, since no individual country has the resources to carry out large-scale research programmes. “Furthermore, compared to major nuclear power countries, Finland has only a few universities that carry out research in this sector,” says Marja-Leena Järvinen. SAFIR is a tool that enables Finnish researchers to engage in international co-operation and participate in research that would otherwise not be accessible.”

Marja-Leena Järvinen also points out that small countries have a hard time being heard, unless they possess special and proven expertise. SAFIR gives Finland such expertise on nuclear safety and nuclear safety research and opens doors that no individual studies or researchers could open.

“The results of an international evaluation indicate that SAFIR is a good and successful research programme and has produced more high-quality results for the international scientific community than could be expected from a programme of this size,” says Marja-Leena Järvinen. From an international perspective, the national co-operation in the SAFIR programme is unique. The Finnish authorities, power company representatives and research institutions are able to discuss with each other even on difficult topics. The co-operation helps to focus the research on appropriate topics that are important for safety.

From results to practice, quickly or slowly

Some lessons learned in the SAFIR studies will be put to practice quickly. The SAFIR2018 programme has kept the level of expertise up-to-date, enabling STUK to order investigations that support the assessment of operating licences of nuclear power stations. These investigations have been necessary for example in the monitoring of the safety of reactor 3 at Olkiluoto. A total of EUR 4 million has been spent on these investigations that support the safety assessments created in association with the statements on operating licences.

Some studies search for answers for very open-ended and indefinite questions – ones where there actual object of the study cannot be specified very precisely and even the choice of methodology is not immediately obvious. A good example of this is research on external threats launched in 2006. The purpose of this research is to verify that the design basis of the new reactor 3 being constructed at Olkiluoto is sound. By the time the Fukushima disaster in 2011 prompted all nuclear power plants to assess the significance of external threats, the SAFIR programmes had already gathered a lot of information that could be used in the assessments.

Marja-Leena Järvinen wishes to emphasise that research should reach beyond the known effects of known threats (known-knowns) or unknown effects of known threats (known-unknowns). We must also be able to investigate the unknown results of unknown threats (unknown-unknows).

The strength of SAFIR programmes lies in their long timespan

One of the strengths of the SAFIR programmes is that they ensure the continuity of research. SAFIR2018 will be followed by SAFIR2022 that was launched at the beginning of this year. The research themes of SAFIR2022 include the development of the assessment methods for overall safety, modernisation of safety assessment tools, long-term operation and changing operating environments of the plants.

The underlying theme is continuity, and each individual theme extends beyond 2022.
The funding basis of the research programme is based on the Finnish Nuclear Energy Act. Most of the funding comes from the state nuclear waste management fund, i.e. fees charged from the power companies pursuant to the Nuclear Energy Act, as well as funding allocated by VTT and other research institutions for their own research projects.


  • For more information about the SAFIR2018 research programme, the final report and the agenda of the conclusion seminar, including project summaries, see


SAFIR 2018 in figures

  • A research programme spanning 4 years (2015–2018)
  • 209 person-years
  • over 1,000 publications
  • A total of EUR 29.6 million spent on research, of which
  • EUR 17.7 million from the state nuclear waste management fund (money from nuclear power companies), EUR 6.4 million channeled via VTT, additionally some research institution contributed their own money
  • A total of EUR 46.4 million for research projects and infrastructure development, with the most important infrastructure project being the VTT Centre for Nuclear Safety in Espoo

More information

Principal Advisor Marja-Leena Järvinen, tel. +358 9 759 88 304
Deputy Director Tomi Routamo, tel. +358 9 759 88 577
Media Services, tel. +358 10 850 4761

22 Mar 2019 17:23