Minister of Minerals and Energy announces the phasing out of the use of High Enriched Uranium for the Pelindaba Research Reactor Nuclear Fuel
18 July 2005
The Minister of Minerals and Energy, Mrs Lindiwe Hendricks, has announced that the SAFARI-1 nuclear research reactor of the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) located at Pelindaba will be converted from using High Enriched Uranium (HEU) to Low Enriched Uranium (LEU).
“This marks yet another milestone in our government’s programme to ensure that the safety of nuclear materials is enhanced globally,” the Minister said.
SAFARI-1 was commissioned in the 1960s as a Materials Test Reactor (MTR) and is now mainly utilised for the production of radioisotopes for nuclear medicine applications. The remaining HEU will generally be applied to the manufacturing of medical isotopes, mainly Molybdenum-99, used in nuclear medicine diagnostics.
The conversion of SAFARI-1 ensures that the future of the South African medical isotope production can be guaranteed for a longer period.
There is an increased effort internationally to phase out the use of HEU in nuclear research reactors. The decision by the Minister, which is also supported by Cabinet, ensures that South Africa is in-step with the rest of the world. “This is just one of a number of measures that we will be announcing which are aimed at ensuring the sustainability and integrity of our nuclear sector”, the Minister added.
Necsa will now convert its research reactor fuel manufacturing plant to use LEU. This conversion will be undertaken over a period of approximately three years and will provide several opportunities for young scientists to be engaged in new development projects.
The conversion will be regulated by the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) and monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Additional Technical Info
Many research reactors worldwide are fuelled by High Enriched Uranium (HEU) with a concentration of ~90% of Uranium-235 (U-235). The use of HEU poses challenges in that it can also be used as source material in nuclear weapons. HEU is classified as uranium material with a concentration of more than 20% U-235, whilst Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) contains less than 20% U-235. Natural Uranium consists mostly of the U-238 isotope, with about 0.7% of U-235. Commercial (power) nuclear reactors use natural uranium that has been enriched from 3 to 20 % of U-235.
Mr Tseliso Maqubela
Chief Director: Nuclear
Tel: (012) 317 8007
Fax: (012) 317 8539
Cell: 082 450 9224
Issued by: Department of Minerals and Energy
18 July 2005