The Government of Rwanda, represented by the Rwanda Atomic Energy Board (RAEB), has signed an agreement with Canadian-German nuclear technology start-up Dual Fluid Energy to collaborate on the development in Rwanda of a demonstration Dual Fluid reactor.

The demonstration reactor is expected to be operational by 2026 and subsequent testing of the Dual Fluid technology is to be completed by 2028. The Government of Rwanda has agreed to provide the site and infrastructure for the project, while Dual Fluid is responsible for the technical implementation of the partnership.

The signing ceremony was attended by Minister of Infrastructure, Dr Ernest Nsabimana and the State Minister for Infrastructure Patricie Uwase, as well as representatives of Dual Fluid.

Under the agreement, Rwandan scientists will be given practical training in the field of nuclear technology. Dual Fluid aims to develop an entirely new type of nuclear fission, based on liquid fuel and a lead coolant, that could exponentially increase the performance.

Dual Fluid says its reactors can be used to produce electricity, hydrogen, and synthetic fuels at costs below those of fossil fuels. According to RAEB CEO, Fidel Ndahayo, once the project is brought to life, it will help address the country’s energy demands and boost industrialisation.

“In order to meet the growing energy demand of its population, to boost the development of its industrial sector and to build an economy that is resilient to climate change, Rwanda is looking at nuclear energy to add to its energy generation mix,”

He added: “In the spirit of remaining a ‘proof-of-concept’ destination as a strategy to accelerate integration of innovative technologies, Rwanda is establishing strategic cooperation partnerships with start-up companies involved in the design and development of small modular nuclear reactor technologies.”

Ndahayo said the Dual Fluid technology has nuclear safety design features that make it accident-free. “The technology will produce relatively low amounts of radioactive waste that will be safely managed, in line with existing international radioactive waste management safety standards.”

Dual Fluid makes extravagant claims for its technology. According to its website, “Our development is fundamentally different to everything we have ever known as nuclear power. That is why we have patented it. We are creating fifth generation nuclear: intelligent, highly efficient and safe.”

Instead of fuel rods, Dual Fluid’s design uses two circulating fluids: One contains the fuel and the other extracts the heat. “The nuclear fuel can unleash its entire potential at 1000° Celsius. This offers an entirely new dimension in terms of performance and efficiency,” it says.

“Nuclear power today utilises fuel rods which are a construct from the early days of nuclear technology. With fuel rods, only a very small proportion of the uranium is utilised, leaving the vast majority of it to be disposed of as waste. Existing fluid nuclear concepts utilize the fuel better, though because the same fluid is used to simultaneously transport the fuel and extract the heat, these concepts are limited in their performance.”

A 27-page White Paper on the website extols the virtues of this new technology and provides a little more detail. “Due to the separate circles for fuel and coolant, the fuel can circulate as slowly as required for an optimum burn-up rate, while the coolant can circulate as fast as required for optimum heat removal. As a result, undiluted liquid fuel – a metallic actinide mixture – can be used, significantly increasing the amount of fissile material in the reactor core. The compactness of the core reduces the amount of structural materials required, so expensive, high-temperature and corrosion- resistant substances can be used.”

It continues: “Liquid lead as a coolant dissipates the heat without slowing down the neutrons in the reactor core. This makes the Dual Fluid reactor a fast reactor, characterised by a net neutron surplus, which also serves to deactivate long-lived fission products. Because Dual Fluid operates with a high neutron excess, the reactor – in combination with the Dual Fluid recycling plant – can fully utilise any fissile material: thorium or natural uranium, plus processed nuclear waste from today´s reactors. The remaining fission products decay rapidly: Altogether, they are less radiotoxic than natural uranium after a few hundred years.”

Dual Fluid CEO Götz Ruprecht said that after investing years in research and assessing the efficacy of the technology, it is now time to roll it out and it will be the gamechanger in regard to new and alternative development of nuclear energy. He told a news conference in Kigali that the demonstration reactor is expected to be operational by 2026 and the subsequent testing of the Dual Fluid technology is to be completed by 2028. The test phase will cost €70m ($75m), to be financed by the company.

“Time is a critical factor for our technology,” said Ruprecht. “After years of detailed preparation and improving the concept in theory, we are now convinced that we have found an ideal partner for the first realisation of our groundbreaking technology.” He added: “The reason why Dual Fluid chose to invest in Rwanda is its highly favourable governance and business environment that has already attracted major international players. Our demonstration reactor will show that a better, far more efficient way of generating nuclear energy is possible and within reach in the near future.”

RAEB, established in 2020, is a government agency whose mission to promote the peaceful use of atomic energy for sustainable socio-economic development. RAEB is responsible for advising the Government on issues relating to atomic energy, promoting the peaceful use of atomic energy, establishing partnerships with national, regional and international entities in the field of atomic energy, promoting and supporting the construction and maintenance of nuclear energy installation for the purposes of production of electric energy and other atomic energy application.

The agency is also charged with supervising and managing the acquisition and use of nuclear fuel, managing nuclear waste, providing guidance on research for the peaceful use of nuclear materials, providing guidance on handling and mining of radioactive minerals, collaborating with institutions of higher learning and research institutes for the purposes of conducting research in matters related to peaceful use of atomic energy science and technology and engaging in research and development activities in matters related to atomic energy or peaceful purposes.

At present Rwanda has an installed electricity generation capacity of 332.6 MWe, most of which is from hydropower dams and the rest from methane, solar and peat. In 2020, Russia agreed to construct a Centre for Nuclear Science & Technology for Rwanda, which would include a research reactor and supporting laboratories. The first 50 Rwandan students are currently studying in Russia for nuclear related degrees.

It remains to be seen whether a country with no nuclear experience or developed nuclear infrastructure will be able to support a very novel lead-cooled fast reactor technology. Currently fast reactor technology is only operating in Russia, which is currently also constructing the world’s first ever lead-cooled fast reactor (Brest-OD-300) linked to a fuel recycling facility. This development has taken decades of research and testing supported by Russia’s entire nuclear industry and investment of more than $2bn. The facility is not expected to be completed until 2029. It therefore seems unlikely that Rwanda and Dual Fluid will have a demonstration lead-cooled fast reactor and supporting facilities up and running by 2028.

Date: Saturday, 16 September 2023
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