Further funding for nuclear engineering research in South Africa

16th February 2016 By: Keith Campbell - Creamer Media Senior Deputy Editor

Further funding for nuclear engineering research in South Africa

The Koeberg nuclear power plant
Photo by: Creative Commons

The North West University (NWU) Potchefstroom campus announced on Tuesday that the National Research Foundation, or the NRF (a major agency of the Department of Science and Technology), had awarded its School of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering a third cycle of funding for the school’s South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChI) chair in nuclear engineering. The new funding award totals R16-million over five years.

“The first chair was awarded in 2006,” pointed out NWU SARChI nuclear engineering chair Professor Jat du Toit. “This third cycle that has been awarded to us, is proof that the NRF notices the value that our research adds to a specialist field of study. An international panel of experts confirmed that the research of the previous two cycles had been of an exceptional standard, and therefore further funding was approved.”

The money will be used to fund a wide range of activities and operations. These will include bursaries for PhD and Masters students, research, equipment, salaries, travel costs and workshop and conference fees.

“Through our research we want to gain better insight into the processes that occur at nuclear reactors,” he explained. “We have to develop improved simulation equipment so that we can contribute to the improvement of nuclear technology. We are also tasked to explore the position that nuclear power can take in the blend of energy sources. This can only be to the advantage of industries and every consumer.”

NWU noted that, while nuclear reactors are very expensive to build, they are, in the long run, more sustainable than coal-fired power stations. Nuclear power plants (NPPs) have lower running costs and are cleaner than coal ones. Moreover, they have little or no carbon footprint and wastes are limited.

The university also reported that the NRF believes that its School of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering is well able to further develop and improve current technology and could make important international contributions. (The SARChI programme was set up to develop research excellence and innovation at the country’s universities.)

There are currently three operational nuclear reactors in South Africa. Two are nuclear power units at the Koeberg NPP near Cape Town and the third is a much smaller research reactor at Pelindaba, west of Pretoria.