The South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) is reactivating its ability to manufacture nuclear pebble fuel, originally created to support South Africa's Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) programme. This was reported by Necsa group CEO Phumzile Tshelane at a media briefing at Pelindaba on Friday.
"We are taking our PBMR fuel manufacturing and test laboratories out of care and maintenance," he told Engineering News Online afterwards. "There are potential customers outside the country, that are looking for this fuel. We've had enquiries from the US, Indonesia and Russia."
The reactivating of the laboratories will cost about R50-million and should be finished by the second half of next year. At the moment, no extra staff will be required to operate them; current Necsa staff are being reassigned to do so.
"The plan, once we are back creating and testing the fuel, is to increase the amount we can produce to commercial levels," he said in the interview. "Re-establish our capability and then go commercial!" Necsa will be producing the spherical geometry coated fuel particles, not other modular fuel shapes.
To fulfill this ambition, the corporation requires a firm order for pebble fuel by, again, the second half of next year. "We are confident we will get one."
"No one outside China is currently constructing a PBMR," he observed to Engineering News Online. "But there are designs in the US, supported by the [US] Department of Energy. At least one of these designs is likely to be built, in the short term. It would most likely be a demonstration plant, not just laboratory scale. The interest from the US in pebble fuel from Necsa is very strong."