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Send  Share  RSS  Twitter  09 Sep 2009

Motoring: Enriched Pebble Fuel Heads for Russia


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In a first for Africa, South Africa’s Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) company – in
collaboration with Necsa (the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation) – has
manufactured High Temperature Reactor fuel spheres or “pebbles” containing 9.6%
enriched uranium. Sixteen of these graphite spheres were today shipped to Russia
for irradiation tests to demonstrate the fuel’s integrity under reactor conditions.
The achievement follows PBMR and Necsa’s successful manufacturing in December
2008 of enriched uranium-coated particles, 14 000 of which are contained in a
pebble. It is the first time that High Temperature Reactor fuel has been
manufactured in the southern hemisphere.

Says Jaco Kriek, CEO of Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (Pty) Ltd: “We are very proud
of this achievement, especially since the pebble fuel is at the heart of the PBMR’s
safety case. The manufacturing of the fuel spheres is the culmination of many years
of intensive development work at PBMR’s Fuel Development Laboratories on the
Necsa site at Pelindaba near Tshwane. The irradiation tests are the final step in the
development of the fuel for the PBMR demonstration unit and we are keenly
anticipating the results.”

The tests will be conducted by the Institute of Nuclear Materials (INM) in Zarechny
near Ekaterinburg in Russia, where similar tests have been carried out previously.
According to Dr Johan Slabber, PBMR’s Chief Technology Officer, INM is also able to
provide independent verification of PBMR’s fuel manufacturing capability. He says
the test pebbles are similar to the fuel that would be used in a PBMR reactor in
future. The irradiation tests will determine whether the fission product retention
capability of PBMR fuel spheres is comparable with that of the German HTR fuel on
which the PBMR technology is based.

Four of the sixteen fuel spheres will be irradiated as part of the tests in Russia, which
will begin in January 2010 and take approximately two years to complete. The
remaining fuel spheres will be loaded into a Cold Finger Apparatus, or “KUFA”,
furnace and subjected to heating tests.

During irradiation, the release of gaseous fission products will be measured. This will
give a measure of any defective particles in the fuel. After the tests, the fuel
spheres will be subjected to further examinations

• The fission product content of each sphere will be measured by gamma
• One of the irradiated fuel spheres will be deconsolidated and the fission
product inventory of matrix graphite will be measured by gamma
spectrometry: and
• The fission product retention capability of the coating will be determined.

Fuel spheres will also be sent to the Institute for Energy of the Joint Research Centre
of the European Commission, in the Netherlands, for irradiation testing.
Earlier this year, PBMR sent coated particles to the USA for irradiation testing, due to
start in early 2010 at the Idaho National Laboratory.
Kriek says the intention is to in the long run develop the capability to test and
irradiate nuclear fuel in South Africa.

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