Pelindaba Nuclear Research Center
Church Street Extension West P.O.Box 582 PRETORIA 0001 Republic of South Africa
The Atomic Energy Board was founded in 1948, and in 1961 the board moved from Pretoria to its existing site at Pelindaba near Hartbeespoort Dam approximately 30-35 km West of Pretoria. In the mid-1960s the South African nuclear weapons program moved from downtown Pretoria to the Pelindaba Nuclear Research Center. "Pelindaba" is derived from the words pelile meaning "finished." and 'indaba' meaning "discussion". The Pelindaba site consists of 2300 hectares of which around 54 hectares are building space.
This AEC site includes the Safari-1 research reactor, a hot cell complex, a waste disposal site, and conversion and fuel fabrication facilities. Facilities at Pelindaba include:
- Safari-1 - 20MW swimming pool research reactor which has been under IAEA safeguards since its commissioning in 1965.
- Safari-2 / Pelinduna -- Critical assembly; closed and dismantled in 1970.
- Hot Cell Complex - The modern hot-cell complex is equipped to handle high levels of radioactivity. Dedicated in 1998 to commercial production of Molybdenum99, used for diagnostic treatment world-wide, from the Safari-1 reactor. Molybdenum-99 is produced in a number of other countries, but production capabilities are generally small and sporadically run.
- Z-plant - Semi-commercial, Helikon aerodynamic process enrichment plant produced 3.25 % enriched LEU for the Koeberg power station. This large (300 000 SWU/a) semi-commercial enrichment plant was constructed in the later 1970's and early 1980's, and commissioning commenced in 1984 and full production in 1988. Closed in 1995, the enrichment technology was less than novel and hopelessly uneconomic. The cavernous production hall with its countless vortex separators, more than any other AEC venture, embodied a "can do" rather than "should do" operation, driven by a government political mandate.
- UF6 Conversion Plant - The Conversion Plant started operation in 1986 and produced distilled uranium hexafluoride as from 1987/8. It was built to supply the AEC's Z-Plant enrichment facility, which became operational in 1988. The conversion plant's capacity exceeded the feed rate required for the Z-Plant, and conversion services have also been exported. Since 1995/96 this plant had undergone successful upgrading to solve certain bottle-necks towards achieving its full throughput of 1200 tpa and later expansion to 1500 tpa of uranium (U) as uranium hexafluoride (UF6). However, faced with a rapidly deteriorating market environment, this plant was closed in 1998. During almost two decades of operation, the UF6 Conversion Plant had served as a springboard for a wide array of fluorine and fluoride-based industrial projects within the AEC.
- BEVA Plant - The equipment was used in the pelletising and assembly sections of the process for the manufacturing of pressurised water reactor (PWR) LEU fuel elements for the Koeberg nuclear power reactor. BEVA production started in 1988 and average production has been about 25 tonnes of contained uranium per annum. Despite the AEC's mandate to secure an indigenous nuclear fuel source for Koeberg, it supplied less than half of the plant's requirements; Eskom was always able to secure fuel from abroad at lower costs. The plant was closed in 1995, and in August 1998 the Atomic Energy Corporation announced that it was seeking offers to purchase the redundant nuclear fuel fabrication equipment. The existing buildings and infrastructure housing the equipment were said to be potentially suitable for pebble-bed reactor fuel manufacture by Eskom, the national electricity supplier of South Africa. Eskom's new pebble-bed reactor project will use fuel of an entirely different type from that of the Koeberg PWRs and will consequently require completely new equipment in the manufacturing process.
- Zirconium Tubing Plant - Produced cladding for fuel assemblies used in Koeberg reactors. Closed in 1993, the plant's equipment was sold to the People's Republic of China in 1997. The plant, which had cost about R200 million to build, was sold for about R20 million.
- HEU-UF6 Production Plant
- Thabana Hill / Radiation Hill - Storage of spent fuel from Safari-1 and other radioactive waste.
- Building 1200 - Medical unit, converted to the Wildlife Breeding Research Centre (WBRC) headquarters and laboratory in March 1996.
- Building 1600 - Radioanalysis - A center of excellence for the measurement of nuclear radiation, with a staff of more than thirty scientists and analysts.
- Building 1900 - Reactor Theory -- comprehensive Pressurized Water Reactor (PWR) and Materials Testing Reactor (MTR) core analysis.
- Building 5000 - Criticality experiments in the late 1970s; closed in the early 1980s.
- Calibration Laboratory - Inspection, repair, maintenance and calibration of instrumentation use for monitoring radiation and contamination.
- Isotope Centre - Provides products and services which rely on radiopharmaceuticals to improve the diagnosis and treatment of illness. The Isotope Centre also offers support services which include the disposal of waste, specialist advice and assistance in the design of hot laboratories.
- Flosep - Gas/solid vortex tube separation systems are one of the AEC's foremost technologies, arising originally from the uranium enrichment program. Flosep specialises in the design, including fluid dynamic studies, and manufacture of air filtration and dust control systems. Applications range from the reduction of stack emissions and other dust suppression projects to the recovery of fine product and filtration of ventilation air. Industrial applications include systems for compressors, winder motor cooling, substations and general ventilation.
- Fabritech - This specialised fabrication facility produces complex plant components in sophisticated materials for demanding service environments, including pressure vessels, heat exchangers and associated plant equipment in Aluminium, Stainless Steels, Duplex steels, Monel, Inconel, Titanium and other high alloys. Total area under cover is 7 700m2, with a total clean area under cover of 1,350m2.
- Pelchem - The chemical division of Pelindaba Technology was established in April 1999 to commercialise the technologies and products developed in the past for the nuclear fuel cycle. Initial products included hydrogen fluoride (HF), fluorine (F2), UF4 and UF6. Two new chemical plants are situated at Pelindaba, which provide tungsten hexafluoride (WF6) and chlorine trifluoride (CIF3) specifically for use in the semiconductor industry.
- Special Alloys Division - The Division renders metallurgical services, produces special alloys, undertakes heat treatment, welding, brazing and casting of materials with surface properties such as corrosion, wear and erosion resistance, or low friction.
- Specialised Plating Technology Division - Comprehensive cleaning and surface finishing services include surface treatment consulting, general plating, plating of noble metals and specialised plating.
- FTP Toolcoat Division - Modification of polymer surfaces using fluorine or fluorine gas mixtures.
- Vacuum Service Division - Maintenance on a variety of vacuum equipment including vane, piston, diffusion, turbo and roots vacuum pumps and helium detectors.
The AEC designed and produced the initial nuclear device at Pelindaba. A second device in late 1979 at Pelindaba but it was suitable only for use in a test. The only criticality test for the HEU core was conducted at Pelindaba. Facilities at the Pelindaba complex also included facilities for machining high explosives (HE) for implosion weapons and for related testing and firing. AEC personnel continued advanced weapons design research at this facility for the remainder of the duration of the nuclear weapons program.
The AEC continues to operate the SAFARI-1 research reactor within the confines of a nuclear license by the Council for Nuclear Safety and with a mainly commercially directed focus. SAFARI-1 is a 20MW Materials Test Reactor of the tank-in-pool type (Oak Ridge design). It is currently being utilised mainly for commercially oriented projects. Institutional cooperation is low but steadily increasing following a decision to actively enhance this aspect of the reactor's role in South Africa. This latter role of SAFARI-1 is receiving particular attention while the former serves to offset the costs involved in running the facility.
The SAFARI-1 reactor is supported by a comprehensive infrastructure, including -
- a large inventory of highly enriched uranium
- an MTR fuel manufacturing plant
- extensive hot cell facilities
- an Isotope Centre
- a pipe storage facility for interim storage of spent fuel
- two disposal sites for low and medium-level radioactive waste
- theoretical reactor physics support
- radiochemistry, including radiopharmaceutical research
The two most important commercial products produced by SAFARI-1 are fission Mo-99 and the transmutation doping of silicon. The former application is rapidly growing and will contribute significantly to covering the running costs of SAFARI-1 in the future. In the mid-1990s the Atomic Energy Corporation of South Africa expanded its Mo-99 production capacity at its Safari-1 research reactor to 1000 curies per week. Other commercial applications relate to isotope production, materials modification, neutron activation analysis and the provision of general irradiation services.
In the late 1990s. to carry out its regulatory control function on safeguards of nuclear materials more cost-effectively, the AEC's vault of highly enriched uranium for the SAFARI-1 reactor, together with a number of other locations elsewhere in the world, were fitted with Remote Monitoring Systems by the IAEA. These systems allow the IAEA to carry out direct surveillance of any nuclear material store through encrypted direct signals to Vienna.
In 1998 the AEC commissioned its interim retrievable dry store at Pelindaba for spent fuel from SAFARI-1 after receiving the necessary safety and safeguards approvals from the Council for Nuclear Safety and the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, respectively. As a result, 120 spent fuel elements were transported from the spent fuel racks in the pool of SAFARI-1 research reactor to the retrievable dry store on Thabana.
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