South Africa’s Safari-1 nuclear research reactor has undergone a major upgrade supported by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Safari-1 is a 20MWe tank-in-pool type nuclear research reactor, owned and operated by the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) at Pelindaba, 30km west of Pretoria. Safari-1 (South Africa Fundamental Atomic Research Installation) is South Africa’s only nuclear research reactor.

Upgraded diffraction beam line facilities have now been installed at the reactor, which included donations of some of the high-precision equipment and contracting of international experts to advise on its design, fabrication and installation. South Africa is now set to focus on "niche areas" of specialist research.

The IAEA said scientists from southern Africa will no longer need to travel tens of thousands of kilometres to conduct materials research using thermal energy neutron beams. According to Andrew Venter, the scientific section leader at Necsa, who was in charge of the project: "Being able to do the research closer and faster will be beneficial to the competitiveness of our industry and academia. The modernised neutron diffraction facilities provide state-of-the-art capabilities of international standard to researchers from various scientific disciplines."

He added: "While a developing country like South Africa will not be able to afford the extensive suite of equipment major research institutions in the developed world can offer, it can successfully focus on niche research areas. We need to find such niches and build expertise around them."

According to the IAEA, the fact that a neutron has a magnetic moment enables the study of magnetic structure in materials at the atomic level. "These studies are fundamental to understanding the magnetic properties of materials. While most of the research is of academic interest, extensive studies of dilute alloys of chromium have also taken place at the facility."