Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with South Africa’s Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (Pty) that could see the two firms collaborate in the development of the pebble bed modular reactor (PBMR).

Based on the MOU, signed 3 February, MHI will initially study the area for possible collaboration in the design of the 200MWt plant that PBMR Pty is currently developing. Going forward, the two companies will explore areas for further collaboration, including construction of plants and market exploration.

The 200MWt plant is aimed at steam process heat applications and is well suited for applications in areas lacking a fully developed grid. It consists of a PBMR and a steam generator that provides hot steam at 750°C (1382°F). The reactor uses silicon carbide-coated uranium particles encased in graphite for the fuel spheres and helium as the coolant. A number of potential customers, including, Sasol, a major South African chemical company, have been studying the introduction of the plant, which is targeted to begin operation in approximately year 2020.

PBMR (Pty) Ltd, the engineering company established in 1999 to oversee the PBMR development project, has a longstanding relationship with MHI.

MHI did the basic design and research and development of a helium-driven turbo generator system and core barrel assembly, the major components of PBMR’s original 400MWt, direct-cycle design. This concept was changed last year to a 200MWt design, which delivers super-heated steam through a steam generator.

Akira Sawa, MHI’s executive vice-president and general manager of Nuclear Energy Systems is delighted to still be involved in the PBMR project. “We firmly believe that high temperature reactors will be one of the viable future reactors. We are therefore prepared to perform certain research and development work to assist in the success of this project.”

He says the future potential of the technology lies in the utilisation of higher output temperatures from the reactor system. “There are therefore important additional technological development opportunities that can be exploited. The possibility that PBMR may in future still want to pursue the direct cycle, gas-turbine design, should also not be ruled out.”

PBMR CEO Jaco Kriek welcomed the cooperation with MHI. “The pebble bed technology will bring a new option to the energy market which offers flexible, smart grid solutions for electricity, customer-centric process heat and steam solutions for petrochemical industries, oil sands extraction and desalination. It will also pave the way to high-temperature hydrogen production.”

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