Dr Fidele Ndahayo, CEO of the Rwanda Atomic Energy Board (RAEB), announced at the recent International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) General Conference that the country plans to integrate peaceful nuclear technology solutions to trigger the socio-economic transformation leading to realisation of its long-term Vision 2050. “Rwanda’s Country Programme Framework highlights several priority areas such as Food & Agriculture, Human Health, Water Resources Management, Environment Management and Energy & Industry where the use of nuclear science solutions is going to make a significant positive impact,” he said. “Along with our efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, we are committed to promoting the peaceful use of nuclear science and technology for sustainable socio – economic development.” 

RAEB is the government institution in charge of implementing national nuclear energy projects. According to Dr Ndahayo, necessary studies are ongoing for the research reactor-based Centre of Nuclear Science & Technology, being built with Russian assistance, with main objectives being training & education, industrial applications and, research & development.

He said the Government of Rwanda has decided to introduce nuclear energy in its energy generation mix. “The small modular nuclear reactor (SMR) technologies will be the base of our future nuclear power plants and a pre-feasibility study of a nuclear power plant project based on SMR technology will be completed by the end of this year.” He added: “The Government of Rwanda is fully aware that these SMR technologies are new and mostly under development. Consequently, Rwanda is establishing strategic partnerships with interested SMR developing companies with the objective to have the whole or part of the development process taking place in Rwanda.”

He noted that the national nuclear regulator is being strengthened and given the required capacity to supervise and regulate this process. “We believe this approach will accelerate knowledge and technology transfer, as well as skills development and hence will result in a fast implementation of national nuclear energy projects. To realise this objective, we are committed to working closely with the IAEA to ensure all nuclear safety, security and safeguards standards are strictly followed.”

He emphasised the importance of nuclear energy to developing states and requested better international support. “To allow developing countries also to take part in the process of developing new nuclear technologies that may better fit and respond to their respective needs, we call upon the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear Energy Agency of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development to reconsider their decision and allow developing countries with no operating nuclear facilities to access the Nuclear Energy Agency’s Data Bank and its training and educational tools.”

However, he said Rwanda appreciates the support it receives from the IAEA through its different departments, as well as through the African Regional Cooperative Agreement on Research, Training & Development related to nuclear science and technology. “Rwanda is also keen to work closely with the African Commission on Nuclear Energy to advance the integration of nuclear civil applications in Africa. safety, security and safeguards standards are strictly followed,” he noted.

In September, the Government of Rwanda, represented by the Rwanda Atomic Energy Board (RAEB), 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. Dual Fluid said the demonstration reactor is expected to be operational by 2026 and subsequent testing of the technology is to be completed by 2028. The Government of Rwanda agreed to provide the site and infrastructure for the project, while Dual Fluid is responsible for the technical implementation of the partnership.

Dual Fluid makes extravagant claims for its technology. According to its website, “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.

A 27-page White Paper on the website extols the virtues of this new technology claiming that 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.”

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. 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: Thursday, 05 October 2023
Original article: neimagazine.com/news/newsrwanda-details-nuclear-plans-at-iaea-meeting-11192792