South Africa seeks proposals for new research reactor

07 February 2022

Necsa - the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation - has released a Request for Information (RFI) for the Multipurpose Reactor (MPR) to replace the 56-year-old Safari-1 research reactor located at Pelindaba.

Pelindaba (Image: South African Tourism)

In September last year, the South African cabinet approved the construction of the MPR to replace the 20 MWt Safari-1, which is scheduled to retire in 2030. The reactor is operated by Necsa,  with isotope production through Necsa's wholly-owned NTP Radioisotopes subsidiary.

Safari-1 is one of the four leading producers of medical radioisotopes in the world used to treat millions of patients annually. It also provides support for scientific research, development and innovation in medicine, agriculture, palaeontology and bioscience.

Safari-1 is the main supplier of medical radioisotopes in Africa and can supply up to 25% of the world's molybdenum-99 needs. It has been converted from highly-enriched uranium to low-enriched uranium and has been using low-enriched uranium targets for radioisotope production since 2010.

In addition to radioisotope production, the MPR will substantially expand research capabilities and outputs. The new reactor is to be equipped with a cold neutron source, which will be the only one available in Africa.

The MPR RFI includes technical, financial, financing and project management aspects related the following facilities: the Multipurpose Reactor Facility, including all buildings and systems for the operation of the MPR equipped with isotope production and fuel/material testing infrastructure as well as neutron sources, beams and guides; a neutron beam line centre equipped with an extensive suite of neutron scattering instruments; the fuel fabrication facility; the isotope processing facility; and on-site accommodation.

"The RFI process will assist us in sourcing out critical market inputs and validation of parameters to be deployed in the MPR financial model and thus also enable refinement of the project User Requirement Specification," said Necsa CEO Loyiso Tyabashe.

"This is in line with the process that needs to be followed leading to the searching for appointment of a preferred supplier for the construction of the MPR."

Necsa said: "The RFI release allows for good lead-time required in rolling out the procurement and construction of the MPR so that the radioisotope production, research and development and related nuclear technology innovations continue without interruptions."

It noted it will not award any contract as a result of the RFI process as it is purely for information-gathering purposes.

"Necsa as the state-owned entity of the South African government is committed to ensuring that the MPR contributes towards the economy and skills development in the country," said David Nicholls, Chairman of the Necsa Board of Directors.

"In terms of employment opportunities the MPR will create about 750 full-time jobs and an additional 3800 indirect jobs for its operation and fulfillment of its research mandate during its operational lifetime."

The closing date for the RFI is 10 March. "Respondents may choose to respond to all aspects of this RFI or select specific aspects based on their area of interest, expertise and capabilities," Necsa said.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News