SA develops nuclear fuel

South Africa’s pebble bed company has successfully manufactured the uranium dioxide-coated particles which form the basis of high-temperature reactor fuel, it announced on Tuesday.

The particles had now been sent to a laboratory in the United States for irradiation testing, the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) company’s chief executive Jaco Kriek said in a statement.

“We have conducted extensive development work and we are satisfied that the coated particles that were produced for testing will provide proof and assurance that the PBMR will perform to its predicted best-in-the-world safety capabilities in the process heat and electricity markets, as well as cogeneration applications,” he said.

The particles differed from conventional nuclear fuel in that the 9,6% enriched uranium particle coating, which forms part of the fuel, acted as the fission product barrier. Conventional nuclear fuel used a metal barrier.

The Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) is a high-temperature, gas-cooled reactor with a closed-cycle, gas turbine power conversion system.

Kriek said PBMR’s were viewed as small, standardised, inherently safe, modular reactors, and one of the best carbon-free alternatives for new power generation and processing heat capacity around the world.

He said the heat a reactor generated could be used for various industrial process applications, and its waste heat to produce water via desalination.

Kriek said the fuel achievement would give the company “huge credibility” as a participant in the Next Generation Nuclear Plant project in the US.

Nuclear fuel manufacture was a key driver of the company’s partnership in the Westinghouse-led consortium, which in 2006 was awarded a contract by the US Department of Energy to consider PBMR’s technology as a heat source for producing non-carbon derived hydrogen, he said. - Sapa


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