Engineering: South Africa’s Pebble Bed Company Achieves Another Milestone
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The South African nuclear design company Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (Pty) Ltd. has
achieved another first for Africa. The company’s Fuel Development Laboratories, based
at Pelindaba in the North West province, have – in collaboration with and under the
nuclear licence of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) – successfully
manufactured coated particles which form the basis of high temperature reactor fuel
containing 9.6% enriched uranium.
The licence for the production campaign was granted by the South African National
Nuclear Regulator on 5 December 2008 and on Saturday 6 December, the fuel which
consists of uranium-dioxide coated particles, was successfully manufactured. On 5
January 2009, the coated particles were shipped to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory
in the United States where they will undergo irradiation testing at the Idaho National
According to PBMR CEO Jaco Kriek, this achievement will give PBMR huge credibility
as a participant in the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) project in the USA. He
points out that the manufacturing of nuclear fuel is a key driver of PBMR’s partnership in
the Westinghouse-led consortium which in 2006 was awarded a contract by the US
Department of Energy to consider the PBMR technology as a heat source for producing
non-carbon derived hydrogen.
The successful manufacturing of the coated particles is the culmination of many years of
intensive development work at PBMR’s world-class Fuel Development Laboratories.
The PBMR fuel is based on the design and manufacturing process employed in the
latest, high-quality fuel that was used in the German AVR research reactor that
successfully operated for 21 years. “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,” says Kriek.
The PBMR fuel differs from conventional nuclear fuel in that the particle coating, which
forms a part of the fuel, acts as the fission product barrier. Conventional nuclear fuel
uses a metal barrier.
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