Graphite production for PBMR set to start

02 September 2008

South Africa's National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) has given the go-ahead for the start of production of graphite feedstock for the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) demonstration unit.

The NNR told the state company PBMR (Pty) Ltd that it "has no further objections regarding the start of the graphite material production at SGL Carbon." PBMR said that the NNR's decision means that it was satisfied that the graphite used to manufacture the fuel for the PBMR Demonstration Power Plant (DPP) will be of the "highest standards, and ensure that the PBMR will perform to its predicted best-in-the-world safety capabilities."

PBMR said that the NNR's decision "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.


PBMR signed a contract in November 2005 with SGL Carbon for the supply of graphite for use in the demonstration PBMR reactor. The two companies had been working together for a number of years on the development of materials for use in PBMR technology, but the NNR instructed Eskom (the licensing applicant) that manufacturing activities should be suspended because it felt that not all the processes and documentation to adequately oversee the manufacturing activities of components at some of PBMR's suppliers were in place. PBMR subsequently asked its suppliers, including SGL Carbon, to suspend manufacturing activities.

The company said in a statement that 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 specification and will shape and support the reactor's pebble bed core within the pressure vessel.

Jaco Kriek, PBMR's CEO, commented: "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." He added, "The NNR has all the necessary oversight in place on the PBMR project to assure the public of the safety of the DPP reactor. 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 the same level of safety and regulatory oversight is achieved throughout the whole of the PBMR DDP project."

NNR's decision to allow the commencement of graphite for the PBMR closely follows the award of a contract, worth C$253 million ($242 million), to a joint venture between Canada's SNC Lavalin and Murray & Roberts for engineering, procurement and construction services relating to the PBMR demonstration project.

The small advanced reactor, a South African national project, would produce 165 MWe and could be built in 'packs' of eight. It is hoped that up to 30 of the units would be employed domestically in coming decades, taking industrial heat-supply roles in the production of hydrogen and synthetic oils as well as electricity. The PBMR design is also a contender for build in the USA in the Next Generation Nuclear Plant project. The project is managed by the PBMR Pty firm, established in 1999 and owned by Eskom (41%), the South African Industrial Development Corporation (14%), the South African government (30%) and Westinghouse (15%).