14 January 2009 – The South African nuclear design company Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) has, in collaboration with South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa), successfully manufactured coated particles which form the basis of high temperature reactor fuel containing 9.6 per cent enriched uranium.
The fuel which consists of uranium-dioxide coated particles has been were shipped to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the United States where they will undergo irradiation testing at the Idaho National Laboratory.
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 said 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.
PBMR is a high temperature gas-cooled reactor with a closed-cycle, gas turbine power conversion system. Although it is not the only gas-cooled, high-temperature reactor currently being developed in the world, the South African project is internationally regarded as the leader in the High-Temperature Reactor technology.
PBMR is characterized by inherently safe features, which mean that no human error or equipment failure can cause an accident that would harm the public.