South Africa to construct new research reactor

4 October 2021

The South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) issued a statement on 26 September welcoming the Cabinet’s decision to approve the acquisition and construction of a new Multipurpose Reactor (MPR).

The MPR will replace the existing 20MW Safari-1 research reactor at Necsa’s complex at Pelindaba, west of Pretoria. Safari-1, a tank in pool light water-cooled research reactor, began operation in 1965 and is scheduled for decommissioning in 2030.

“Cabinet approval of [the] Safari-1 replacement is a major milestone for South Africa, the continent and the whole world,” said Necsa Group CEO Loyiso Tyabashe.

The MPR will be used for both the production of medical radioisotopes and for research. Safari-1 currently produces   molybdenum-99, iodine-131 and lutetium-177. Most of these are exported and employed as input materials into a range of radiopharmaceutical products as well as being used in South Africa.  

Tyabashe said the MPR project will ensure South Africa remains amongst the top four global radioisotopes producers as well as ensuring continuation of research and development on nuclear technology. “This places Necsa on a path to provide much needed radioactive isotopes for medical and industrial applications, execution of research through beam lines, and jobs which are essential for our economy.” 

National nuclear-related scientific and technological research and development capabilities will be significantly boosted. The MPR project will include the creation of a Neutron Beam Line Centre (NBLC), which will source neutron beams from the reactor and direct them along ‘beam lines’ to various research ‘targets’. It will also include a ‘cold neutron’ source (long wavelength neutrons with very low energies) – the first in Africa.

Necsa board chairman Dave Nicholls said the MPR project will have significant social, economic and environmental benefits, with some 5000 direct and 26,000 indirect jobs created during construction. 

It will also expand the range of medical isotopes produced by Necsa’s wholly-owned subsidiary, NTP Radioisotopes, to include ‘short-range’ radioisotopes that would be conveyed to tumour cells by smart delivery systems. Overall, the MPR is expected to benefit the agricultural, industrial, mining and power generation industries, among others, assist research and enhance education and training.

“The replacement will ensure South Africa remains one of the leading countries in these fields and benefits from the new technologies in this environment. “The project will be led by a number of related departments and Necsa as the main client,” the Cabinet statement reads. 

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