Through its European atomic energy community (EURATOM) programme, the Commission has for many years promoted the benefits of collaborative research efforts in the field of nuclear reactor safety. With the introduction of the Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) and the establishment of the European Research Area (ERA), researchers and other stakeholders are being urged to forge ever closer links. This offers the possibility of a new era of collaboration in nuclear reactor safety research, but also presents a number of major challenges. As Europe's nuclear safety community prepares to gather in Luxembourg on 10 November for the biennial FISA conference, CORDIS News spoke to the Commission's coordinator for nuclear reactor safety research, Georges Van Goethem, to find out how FP6 is changing the definition of collaboration, and to assess the challenges ahead. 'The major difference between FP6 and previous framework programmes is that it aims to establish a process of integration rather than simply produce scientific products,' began Mr Van Goethem. 'Unless people show a willingness to merge laboratories and combine their efforts, they will no longer receive financial support from the Commission.' The idea is that some research organisations and universities will abandon areas of investigation that are already being performed to a higher standard in other parts of Europe, creating what Mr Van Goethem calls 'irreversible links' that will remain in place long after the FP6 contract end date. In realising this goal, however, some significant challenges must first be overcome. 'We are fighting a number of barriers. First, there is the lack of a culture of cooperation, where people are more used to doing their own thing. Practical considerations such as different language and national rules must be overcome,' Mr Van Goethem explained. An additional barrier to cooperation is the fact that some research is of potential commercial value, and the instinct can be to withhold the knowledge. In order to overcome these hurdles, Mr Van Goethem argues that while Community funding certainly acts as an incentive for organisations to open up and share their knowledge, the most compelling arguments are those that led to calls for the establishment of the ERA in the first place. 'We simply try to convince them that it is their interests to collaborate. Not only does it avoid fragmentation and duplication of effort, but ultimately it is the key to Europe's global competitiveness in this field,' he said. To give an idea of the scale of integration currently being undertaken, in the priority area of plant life management alone, what was a cluster of 33 projects under the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5) will soon become one, or a maximum of two, Networks of Excellence or Integrated Projects under FP6. In all, 75 individual projects in the area of nuclear reactor safety research under FP5 will be replaced by no more than six projects. Mr Van Goethem accepts that there is a genuine concern among smaller institutions and those based in accession countries that they will simply become lost within this large scale framework. In response, the Commission is actively promoting the participation of smaller facilities in their specific areas of expertise, and may create a specific budget to encourage the participation of organisations from the accession states. The FISA 2003 conference will be a useful occasion for the Commission, as it represents the first gathering of the wider European nuclear safety research community since the introduction of FP6, explains Mr Van Goethem: 'We hope to take a snapshot of progress as it stands in November 2003, assess the reaction of all parties to the aims and instruments of FP6, and find out whether all the necessary stakeholders are on board.' The event will also give the Commission an opportunity to hear about new avenues for research and, more importantly, examine which of these avenues has the required critical mass behind it to begin to develop future initiatives. Mr Van Goethem is realistic about the scale of the challenge that the nuclear safety research community still faces: 'This is a very risky and very ambitious undertaking. The most crucial factor, however, is that despite the risks, there is a clear consensus within the community that it should be attempted.'