Progress planned in Europe, but a fire sale looms in South Africa
The future of high temperature gas-cooled reactors is taking different directions depending on where you look. In Europe a multi-national collaboration is working on plans for a site to build the Allegro Reactor. However, in South Africa the proposed “rescue plan” for the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor involves selling off the now unfunded project by auction.
In Europe the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia have agreed to a joint program to select a site and host the construction of the first-of-a-kind project. Nuclear R&D organizations from all three countries signed a memorandum of agreement in late May. Funding support comes in part from the French Atomic Energy Commission.
In South Africa PBMR officials, at least those who remain following massive layoffs, did not attend a key energy conference May 21 where the future of the Pebble Bed Reactor was hashed over by a panel.
According to wire service reports, the lead speaker, Leon Louw, head of an economic think tank, said that “rescue” of the PBMR project should involve selling it off to the highest bidder.
He added that losing the project result in South Africa failing to develop a leadership role for the next generation of nuclear reactors.
“Somebody is going to pick this up and run with it. We will be like fishermen who talk about the one that got away.”
Reactor design profiles
The Allegro Reactor design targets 50-80 MW thermal power as a prototype plant for future applications at full scale for generation of electricity and process heat transfer. Several fuel types are being investigated with high temperature (850C) and lower temperature (560C) outputs.
The R&D objective is to demonstrate an alternative to sodium-cooled reactor designs as part of the Generation IV International Forum. Key topical areas include helium as a coolant, fuel qualification, core physics, safety of MOX fuel, and computer codes for safety analysis of fast reactors.
The Pebble Bed Modular Reactor design targets 165 MW output for electricity generation and process heat using spherical fuel elements at about 10% enrichment cooled by helium. The R&D objectives have been to develop a commercial product.
In the U.S. the Department of Energy is providing $40 million for completion of conceptual design work later this year. Like the other two reactors, the Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) is proposed to be a high-temperature gas cooled reactor. However, it is expected to have electricity output of 300 MW or 600 MW thermal for process heat applications especially in the petro-chemical industry.
PBMR is a member of a consortium fielded by Westinghouse which owns an equity stake in the company. The other participant is a consortium led by General Atomics which has its own technology.
Prior coverage on this blog
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