Speaking at the launch of the South African Young Nuclear Professionals Society on the 25th August 2006, , Minerals and Energy Minister Buyelwa Sonjica said that South Africa would undertake a cost-benefit analysis into the beneficiation of uranium; "I therefore believe that time has come for South Africa to conduct a cost benefit analysis into the beneficiation (processing) of uranium. I will soon be making certain announcements in this regard...The expansion of peaceful uses of nuclear energy worldwide is looking more and more irreversible...Clearly there is potential in this country and in this continent for us to look at ways of increasing the role nuclear technology plays in our economies."
Uranium production in South Africa has generally been a by-product of gold or copper mining. In 1951 a company was formed to exploit the uranium-rich slurries from gold mining and this grew into NUFCOR, which in 1998 became a subsidiary of AngloGold Ltd. It produces over 1000 tonnes U3O8 per year.
Originally fuel for Koeberg was imported, but at the height of sanctions the Atomic Energy Corporation (AEC) was asked to set up and operate conversion, enrichment and fuel manufacturing services for Koeberg. These have now been closed down. Enrichment was undertaken at Valindaba, 60 km north of Johannesburg, by a unique aerodynamic Helikon vortex tube process developed in South Africa. Since this was not economic, both centrifuge and molecular laser isotope processes were being explored, when operations ceased. The semi-commercial plant was of 300,000 SWU/yr capacity.
The AEC became the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (NECSA).
Eskom now procures conversion, enrichment and fuel fabrication services on world markets.
Since 1965 the AEC/NECSA has operated a 20 MW tank-type research reactor - Safari-1 - at the Pelindaba nuclear research centre. Since 1981 it used 45% enriched fuel elements manufactured locally from locally-enriched uranium, though the pilot enrichment plant producing this closed in 1990.
Low and intermediate level waste from Koeberg is transported by road in steel and concrete containers to a remote disposal site at Vaalputs, 600km away in the Kalahari Desert. However high level waste (the spent fuel) is stored on site.
The spent Uranium 235 rods are currently stored on high-density racks submerged in a reactor pool. The rods take 100 000 years to decay, and between 30 and 50 years to cool down to reach the boiling point of water.
28 August 2006