National Nuclear Laboratory


Tuesday 7 December 2021

UK’s first collaborating centre designated by IAEA celebrates key milestone

The National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) was formally designated as the UK’s first Collaborating Centre by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in September 2020.

As the first global hub of expertise on advanced fuel cycle science anywhere in the world, the Collaborating Centre is making an essential contribution to realising the vital role advanced nuclear technologies (ANTs) play in achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The IAEA Collaborating Centre is an IAEA member state institution, which focuses on research, development and training. It has been designated by the IAEA to support their programmatic activities by implementing an agreed work plan. The Collaborating Centre scheme assists the IAEA in achieving its objective of promoting the peaceful use of nuclear technology worldwide and helps member states strive towards achieving the targets identified in the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Through the centre located at Preston, the IAEA and NNL have collaborated on a range of exciting topics relating to the development of advanced fuels and fuel cycles, which are required to power the reactors of the future. This is whilst supporting the development of the next generation of global experts. Activity undertaken over the last 12 months has placed particular emphasis on subject matter expert knowledge exchange, technological software, and online learning capabilities to inspire the next generation of nuclear scientists.

Project highlights

NNL and IAEA modelling and simulation teams implemented a benchmark exercise to compare the results of NNL’s ORION fuel cycle analysis software, and IAEA’s Nuclear Fuel Cycle Simulation System (NFCSS). Via the Collaborating Centre, NNL and IAEA are continuing to work together to develop, benchmark and publicise the software, disseminate its benefits, and train users.

As member states consider the role of advanced fuel cycles, modelling the corresponding flow of materials, their transmutation, and the production of fission products in this process will be essential to understand the inputs and the implications on the management of the outputs from a given scenario. Achieved by using software like NFCSS and ORION, the technology will help answer important questions, for example in relation to uranium levels, radiotoxicity of our waste, and how much decay heat will be generated.

This collaboration may prove particularly valuable to those member states considering the adoption of nuclear technology as part of their clean energy transition, providing an easy to use tool to complete assessments of the implications of a range of energy scenarios and fuel cycles.

The centre’s eLearning workstream has conducted joint workshops to develop and deliver online learning content on fast reactor fuel cycles, bringing together the UK’s extensive experience and utilising IAEA’s eLearning platform. To date, specific content has been produced for an overarching eLearning module focussed on fast reactor fuel cycles and remaining challenges to deployment, targeted at early career individuals at NNL and the IAEA.

Centre subject matter expert, Nick Barron, Technology Manager at NNL was appointed to the International Scientific Programme Committee that is preparing the upcoming IAEA Conference on Fast Reactors & Related Fuel Cycles: Sustainable Clean Energy for the Future. He subsequently received a nomination to chair the knowledge management session at this event. During the conference, the Collaborating Centre will present a joint abstract introducing delegates to the fast reactors and their fuel cycles eLearning material.

To find out more about the International Conference on Fast Reactors and Related Fuel Cycles: Sustainable Clean Energy for the Future (FR22), visit:

During the summer, the centre contributed to the development of a curriculum map on eLearning material on ‘Nuclear Fuel Engineering, Fabrication and Behaviour’ and is developing additional materials on topics such as advanced nuclear fuel for Thermal Reactors. The development of engaging eLearning material is a vital resource to develop the next generation of subject matter experts, with activities linking to decades of knowledge that otherwise would not have been accessible.

Dr Rob Whittleston, Director of International Engagement, Security and Non-Proliferation

at the National Nuclear Laboratry and NNL’s Director of the Collaborating Centre, said:

“Despite the restraints of launching during pandemic, the Collaborating Centre has already achieved so much and will continue to make an increasing contribution. It has created a vibrant community of experts, continuing to build on decades of successful interaction between NNL and the IAEA.

“I have no doubt that it will prove to be an essential resource for educating the next generation and supporting the delivery of the IAEA’s mission. As such we are committed to building on this early success, broadening our interaction to include other UK partners that will enable us to draw on leading nuclear scientific expertise anywhere in the country. I look forward to the next 12 months and progressing our collaboration that is vital to facilitating a global low carbon energy transition.”