For those of you who are interested in the current status of the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) there have been a couple of useful articles published in Creamer Media’s Engineering News in the last few days. The first one, titled Life beyond nuclear electricity for PBMR talks about applications for PBMRs that are outside of the normal electricity production market that so many people want to claim is the only use for atomic energy. Some examples include heat for materials processing, desalination, and process heat for synthetic fuels production.
The second article is also interesting and useful, though somewhat disturbing from a PBMR fan’s point of view. The article, titled Fuel for thought – PBMR fuel set for year-end production talks about the process of building the capability to produce German designed fuel in South Africa. Though the people quoted and the author are quite hopeful about moving to pilot scale production by the end of the year, it seems to me that they might be overlooking some of the technical issues that might arise in scaling up their processes.
They might also be underestimating the time that it will take to complete some of the irradiation testing that the regulators will demand. It is one thing to effectively coat dummy materials like zirconia and alumina, it is quite another to perform the same task with UO2. The really time consuming task is the irradiation testing that will be required to prove to the regulators that the process results in the kind of long term integrity claimed for the PBMR. I have no doubt that the process is essentially sound and can be proven to be effective, but I have some doubt about the timelines described in the article.