General: Production of graphite feedstock for the PBMR Demonstration Power Plant on track
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Production of graphite feedstock for Gauteng, South Africa’s Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR)
Demonstration Power Plant (DPP) will commence following the National Nuclear
Regulator’s (NNR’s) release stating that it “has no further objections regarding the start
of the graphite material production at SGL Carbon”.
This is a result of highly focused engineering efforts by the PBMR project over the past
22 months to overturn a work stop order imposed on PBMR by Eskom, on the instruction
of the NNR, in October 2006. One of the contracts affected was the production of
graphite feedstock by SGL Carbon of Germany.
The lifting of the work stop order paves the way for the production of long-lead items.
This includes the manufacture of the graphite feedstock material which will be machined
to PBMR specifications and will shape and support the reactor’s pebble bed core.
The Reactor Pressure Vessel of the pebble bed modular reactor will house the Core
Barrel Assembly, a metallic cylinder, and encloses an internal graphite boundary, or
Core Structure Ceramics.
“It has taken a lot of hard work by PBMR, its graphite supplier SGL Carbon, the NNR
and its consultants, together with the Eskom Client Office, to develop the necessary
requirements, processes, specifications and procedures on this first of a kind project,”
says PBMR CEO, Jaco Kriek.
Graphite is a major component of the pebble bed reactor functionality and a central part
of the passive decay heat removal path which is a major reason why the PBMR is a
globally accepted safe design that eliminates core damage. This means that the core of
the pebble bed modular reactor cannot suffer a “core melt”, making this a Generation IV,
or leading technology, nuclear reactor.
The NNR’s statement means that they are satisfied that the graphite material used to
manufacture fuel for the DPP Reactor will be of the highest standards, and ensure that
the PBMR will perform to its predicted best-in-the-world safety capabilities.
“The NNR has all the necessary oversight in place on the PBMR project to assure the
public of the safety of the DPP Reactor,” says Kriek. “The knowledge gained in satisfying
the NNR has been used in the procurement of all safety related Systems and
Components of the DPP Reactor to ensure that same level of safety and regulatory
oversight is achieved throughout the whole of the PBMR DPP project.”
About the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor
The Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) is a High Temperature Gas-cooled Reactor
with a closed-cycle, gas turbine power conversion system. Although it is not the only
gas-cooled high-temperature reactor currently being developed in the world, the South
African project is internationally regarded as the leader in the global power generation
field. The PBMR is characterised by inherently safe features, which mean that no
human error or equipment failure can cause an accident that would harm the public.
Since its establishment in 1999, Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (Pty) Ltd has grown into
one of the largest nuclear reactor design team in the world. In addition to the core team
of some seven hundred people at the PBMR head-office in Centurion near Pretoria,
more than a thousand people at universities, private companies and research institutes
are involved with the project. Around the world, scientists and governments are looking
to South Africa with great interest to see how the local nuclear reactor developments
The PBMR team is currently preparing for the building of a commercial scale
demonstration power plant at Koeberg near Cape Town, where Africa’s only nuclear
power station is based, and a fuel plant at Pelindaba near Pretoria. If proven successful,
the intention is to build up to 30 reactors in South Africa, after which the technology will
be deployed overseas and elsewhere on the African continent.
PBMR’s current investors, the South African government, the South African electricity
utility Eskom, the Industrial Development Corporate of South Africa and the American
nuclear company Westinghouse Electric Company, share the vision of small,
standardised, inherently safe, modular reactors as one of the best carbon-free
alternatives for new power generation capacity around the world.
Westinghouse’s involvement in PBMR is a clear indication of the confidence in the
pebble bed technology’s technical, commercial and export potential. The PBMR project
also enjoys solid support from the South African government, who regards it as one of
the most important capital investment and development projects yet undertaken in the
Next-generation high-temperature reactors such as the PBMR can furthermore produce
hydrogen for transportation or for upgrading coal and heavy crude oils into usable
products, thereby relieving pressure on natural gas supply (the source of most hydrogen
produced today). They can also generate process heat for desalination, to extract oil
from tar sands, and for many other industrial applications.
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