Russian group interested in possible SA research reactor role (22 June 2012)
By: Keith Campbell
22nd June 2012
Russian State-owned nuclear group Rosatom is interested in bidding for any tender from the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) for a new research reactor or Dedicated Isotope Production Reactor (DIPR) to replace the local agency’s current Safari-1 research reactor.
Necsa is currently carrying out a feasibility study into the possibility of acquiring either a DIPR (which could not be used for research) or a new research reactor. The latter is being referred to as a multipurpose reactor (MPR) as, like Safari-1, it would be used both for research and to manufacture radioisotopes for commercial customers.
Rosatom and its predecessor agencies have built more than 100 research reactors in Russia, of which 49 are still in operation. These account for some 20% of all research reactors operating worldwide today. Further, more than 20 Russian-designed research reactors have been built in 18 countries. The latter include Egypt, Libya, China and Vietnam, as well as East European and Central Asian states.
The Rosatom subsidiary responsible for the design of research reactors is JSC Nikiet (this is the Russian acronym, transliterated into the Latin alphabet, for the Research and Development Institute of Power Engineering; it also carries the name of pioneering Soviet nuclear engineer Nikolay Antonovich Dollezhal). It is the direct descendant of the bureau, headed by Dollezhal, which designed the reactor for the world’s first nuclear power plant (for electricity generation), at Obninsk (commissioned in 1954, although, with a capacity of just 5 MWe, this was not a commercial-scale project).
In addition to decades of experience with nuclear fission research reactors, Nikiet has been and is involved in nuclear fusion energy research and development programmes. The company is part of the ITER project (as are other Russian companies and institutes). ITER (which originally stood for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor but which also means ‘the way’ in Latin) is an international project, based in France, to demonstrate that nuclear fusion can be used to generate energy on a commercial scale.
Regarding fission research reactors, Nikiet can offer several different designs, depending on South Africa’s requirements. Such facilities designed by the company are used for fundamental and applied research, radioisotope production, materials testing and education.
While Nikiet would, if selected, provide the design for the reactor, the balance of the plant would be the responsibility of another Rosatom subsidiary, JSC Niaep, which is the group’s leading design and engineering agency. (Niaep stands for Nizhny Novgorod Engineering Company ‘Atomenergoproekt’.) Project management and implementation would be the responsibility of Nukem Tech- nologies, a German-based wholly owned subsidiary of JSC Atomstroyexport, itself a subsidiary of Rosatom.
Necsa was originally considering the construction of a DIPR as a purely business venture that would be entirely funded by the agency from its savings and revenue streams. Earlier this year, however, Necsa announced that instability in the global isotopes market had made it too risky for it to commit itself to a DIPR programme, which would take about ten years to come to fruition. Instead, while waiting for the market to stabilise and show long-term trends, it would also carry out a feasibility study into an MPR, referred to as Safari-2.
Necsa subsidiary NTP Radioisotopes (NTP) currently uses Safari-1 to produce radioisotopes for medical and other purposes, including in industry and mining. It supplies customers in 50 countries on five continents.
The Safari-1 reactor has an extensive ageing management programme, which aims to extend the lifetime of the reactor to at least 2030. This programme is fully funded by NTP from its commercial isotope sales. Safari originally stood for South African Fundamental Atomic Research Installation, but this full name has not been used for decades.
Necsa and Rosatom recently signed a memorandum of understanding. This lays the foundation for the development of joint business projects in, for example, the production and marketing of radioisotopes, the manufacture of nuclear fuel and the fabrication of power equipment. It also opens the way for future cooperation in other, mutually agreed, areas.