Nukem awarded contract at PBMR fuel plant

13 August 2007

Nukem Technologies of Germany has been awarded a fourth contract by South Africa's PBMR Pty related to the construction of a pilot fuel plant for the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) project. 


The latest contract is for the supply of professional services for the procurement support and supervision of construction and commissioning of the PBMR Pilot Fuel Plant at Pelindaba, near Pretoria. The plant should be completed in 2010 to qualify the fuel manufacturing process and to deliver the first core load for the demonstration PBMR. Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (Necsa) will operate it.


The PBMR fuel would be moulded graphite fuel spheres containing coated uranium fuel particles, similar in form to those of the German Thorium High-Temperature Reactor (THTR) . The Pelindaba plant is designed to initially produce 270,000 of the high temperature fuel elements annually.


In 2003, environmental approval was given for construction of the demonstration PBMR unit at Koeberg, near Cape Town, and the fuel plant at Pelindaba. In October 2004, the South African government budgeted to allow development of the first PBMR to proceed, which was seen as conditional approval for the demonstration unit at Koeberg. Construction of the unit is expected to begin in 2009, with first fuel being loaded four years later.


The Minister of Public Enterprises, Alec Erwin, has stated an intent to eventually produce 4000 to 5000 MWe from pebble bed reactors in South Africa. This equates to between 20 and 30 PBMR reactor units of 165 MWe each. They can be build in modular 'packs' of up to eight to provide larger volumes of power.


In April 2005, the PBMR company awarded a $20 million contract to Uhde, a local subsidiary of Germany's Thyssenkrupp Engineering, to build the Pelindaba fuel plant to manufacture the fuel pebbles for the planned demonstration PBMR.


In August 2005, RWE Nukem was awarded a contract by PBMR Pty for the detail design of the fuel production process for the PBMR project. The contract covered the detail design of three out of four of the processes for the production of the spherical fuel elements as well as two processes for the recycling of effluents and uranium resulting from scrap material.


Nukem has been involved in the PBMR fuel plant project since 2000. The fuel production process follows that of the former Nukem/Hobeg fuel production processes used in Germany's high temperature reactor projects: the AVR 13 MWe experimental high temperature reactor at Juelich and the 300 MWe THTR at Uentrop.


Further information




WNA's Nuclear Power in South Africa information paper

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