Dual Fluid Energy-a Canadian-German nuclear technology firm announced on Tuesday, September 12, a new partnership with the Rwandan government to collaborate on the development of a nuclear reactor in the country.
The deal signed in Kigali by the firm's President and Chairman Armin Huke, and the Rwanda Atomic Energy Board (RAEB) Chief Executive Fidel Ndahayo is expected to bring a new type of nuclear technology to the continent and the rest of the world.
Speaking to The New Times after the signing ceremony, Dual Fluid CEO Götz Ruprecht said that the innovation of the new technology lies in the liquid fuel, which circulates in the reactor core at 1000°C and is cooled by liquid lead.
This new principle, he said, represents a new dimension of performance and economy in nuclear technology, and is protected by patents.
Nuclear power today utilizes fuel rods which are a construct from the early days of nuclear technology.
With fuel rods, only a very small fraction of the uranium is utilized, leaving the vast majority of it to be disposed of as waste.
However, instead of solid fuel rods or a single fuel/coolant liquid, the Dual Fluid Reactor (DFR) uses two separate fluid loops: One contains the fuel and the other circulates the coolant.
"This design results in a core that is much more compact in size than current reactors. A more compact core allows the use of structural materials that were previously economically unfeasible for reactor core use. These materials can handle much higher temperatures which enables our reactor to run at 1000°C and at atmospheric pressure.
Running at such conditions offers a truly new dimension in terms of performance and efficiency," Ruprecht said.
According to the deal, the demonstration nuclear reactor is expected to be operational by 2026 and the subsequent testing of the Dual Fluid technology is to be completed by 2028.
"We believe that Rwanda is the best place for us because of various reasons, including the declared strategy and political will to develop the country with reliable nuclear energy, we are in Rwanda because we simply believe that it is the fastest way to make its groundbreaking technology a reality."
Ruprecht, a nuclear physicist argues that the determination and ambition to build new nuclear power as fast as possible is less evident in many Western countries.
Not guinea pig
Reacting to the concerns that Rwanda is being used as a guinea pig for the Dual-Fluid reactors, Ndahayo explained that the country has more to celebrate from the agreement.
"What I can say, is it is practically impossible to be guinea pigs in this agreement," he said during his interview with The New Times podcast, the Long Form.
"Rwanda has just envisaged integrating nuclear power generation in its energy donation mix, and we have already decided to use small modular nuclear reactors, for which the standards have not yet been approved all over the world. So every country is using its own standards based on the opinion of experts in the field."
Equally important, he added, "When you try to introduce a new nuclear reactor in a country that already has established the regulations, it becomes difficult because you are dealing with people who are used to another type of nuclear technology, and there is that big inertia against the change. So when you have a new technology actually it's better to try to develop it in a country that has not yet developed another type."
Building domestic nuclear expertise
For Ndahayo, nuclear technology is considered an effective lever to advance the country's development, but it can not be achieved with a lack of skilled Rwandan engineers.
"Rwanda has long been interested in establishing domestic nuclear expertise. To this end, Rwanda has sent students on education and training programs to various countries with decades of experience in the nuclear sector," he added.
"So currently we have like a little bit more than 10 nuclear engineers that have graduated at the level of master's degrees. We have more than 130 students who are pursuing different programs in nuclear engineering and nuclear science mainly in three major universities of Russia specialized in training in nuclear engineering."
How it works
Ndahayo explained that the reactor core itself is the size of a washing machine. It is not expected to produce electricity but rather demonstrate and validate the new dual-fluid principle of liquid fuel and lead coolant, especially total self-regulation.
For instance, if the temperature rises, the fuel expands and the fission rate automatically drops.
The reactor stands in a hall, the size of roughly four tennis courts. There is a thick concrete wall as a radiation shield according to radiation protection standards.
While every technology has its benefits and disadvantages, Ndahayo asserted that nuclear power is one of the safest forms of energy - "as safe as wind and solar."
However, a Dual Fluid reactor differs fundamentally from existing nuclear technology.
The test reactor is a small device with a low burn-up and therefore little radioactive material inside. "For this reason, too, it poses no threat to the environment."
In the event that the reactor core breaks before the end of its intended operating life, officials said that the fuel in the core would spill into the surrounding vessel containing liquid lead, forming a lead/fuel mixture.
"This mixture can then simply be drained into safe containers provided for this purpose, as is the case at the normal end of the experiment. In the event of an additional leak in the double-walled cooling vessel, the fuel-lead mixture could escape, but it would quickly solidify.
As there are only small amounts of radioactive material in the reactor core, there would be no danger to nature or living creatures outside the concrete-shielded hall."