The MoU was signed between Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) of South Africa, which has been developing the pebble-bed technology since 1993, and Beijing’s Chinergy, whose pebble-bed concept is based on a 10 MW research reactor that was started up in Beijing in 2000.
The main objective of the agreement is to pursue the potential benefits which could be realised through cooperation for the high-temperature reactor (HTR) demonstration projects in China and South Africa, as well as for the commercialisation of these reactor systems.
Both companies intend to design, develop and construct HTR demonstration plants by 2010.
Although both technologies use the same pebble-bed fuel concept as a source of heat, there are differ- ences between the power conversion systems.
The first series of HTR plants in China will be indirect cycle, steam-turbine systems, while the first series of HTR plants in South Africa will be direct-cycle gas-turbine systems.
“While each project has chosen a slightly different technical approach, we believe that high-temperature gas-cooled reactors using pebble fuel offer the most poten- tial for commercially meeting the future environment-friendly needs of the global power generation energy,” says Chinergy CEO Frank Wu.
PBMR CEO Jaco Kriek says that having two plants completed in the same timeframe will bring technical understanding for follow-on applications that can only enhance the future of the technology.
The PBMR is a small, safe nuc- lear power station which is being developed by the South African utility Eskom, the South African Industrial Development Corporation and British Nuclear Fuels, as a power source in South Africa, as well as a viable export product.
The South African project entails the building of a demonstration reactor project at Koeberg, near Cape Town, and a pilot fuel plant at Pelindaba, near Pretoria.
Construction is scheduled to begin in 2007 and the first commercial PBMR modules will be available from 2013.
South African Minister of Public Enterprises Alec Erwin sees pebble-bed reactors in South Africa even- tually producing 4 000 MW to 5 000 MW of power.
This is equivalent to between 20 and 30 PBMR reactors of 165 MW each.
The PBMR concept is based on experience in the US and Germany where prototype reactors were operated successfully between the late 1960s and 1980s.
The reactor consists of a ver- tical steel pressure vessel lined with graphite bricks.
It uses silicon carbide-coated particles of enriched uranium oxide encased in graphite to form a fuel sphere, or pebble, each containing about 15 000 uranium dioxide particles.
Helium is used as the coolant and energy-transfer medium.
The concept allows for additional modules to be added in accordance with demand and to be configured to the size required by the commun-ities they serve.
It can operate in isolation anywhere provided there is sufficient water for cooling.
Dry cooling, although expensive, is an option that would provide even more freedom of location.