The School of Mechanical and Nuclear Engineering at North West University (NWU) Potchefstroom campus has received R16m as funding to participate in nuclear energy research initiatives.
The funding came from the National Research Foundation (NRF) following success stories the school has recorded in the past.
The research programme is run under the South African Research Chairs Initiative (Sarchi), an organisation founded by the Department of Science and Technology and the National Research Foundation in 2006.
Sarchi chairperson Prof Jat du Toit said the R16m would be used over five years, indicating that it can be attributed to the hard work, progress and leadership of his predecessors in the field of nuclear engineering.
“The first chair was awarded in 2006. This third cycle that has been awarded to us is proof that the NRF notices the value that our research adds to a specialist field of study.
An international panel of experts confirmed that the research of the previous two cycles had been of an exceptional standard and therefore further funding was approved,” Du Toit said.
Among other things, the funds will be used to make bursaries available to doctoral and master’s students.
It will also be used for running research costs, equipment, salaries of employees, conference and workshop fees and travelling costs.
Although there is much controversy surrounding nuclear power in SA, Du Toit believes it is because many people do not really understand the sector.
“We are not busy with research to build atom bombs, we are exploring an alternative, yet much-needed, way of energy supply and improving related technology.
“The main objectives of the chair will be to do world class research and add value to the training of highly specialised engineers in order to meet the needs of the community. The emphasis is on new generation light water and high temperature gas-cooled nuclear reactors with improved safety and efficiency properties.”
Together with his team of researchers and students, Du Toit will not deal on nuclear reactors but will focus on computer-based simulation exercises to determine how a particular reactor will react under varying conditions.
“It can help us identify problems at the reactors and find solutions for such problems.”
True to their nature, nuclear reactors are extremely expensive to erect but in the long run are more sustainable than coal stations. The running costs of nuclear reactors are less than those of traditional coal stations, they are cleaner and the carbon footprint and wastes are minimal to none.
“Through our research we want to gain better insight into the processes that occur at nuclear reactors. We have to develop improved simulation equipment so that we can contribute to the improvement of nuclear technology.
“We are also tasked to explore the position that nuclear power can take in the blend of energy sources. This can only be to the advantage of industries and every consumer.”
The NWU project is well positioned to develop and improve existing technology further and is even said to be capable of making an important international contribution.
South Africa has three nuclear reactors, two at Koeberg and Safari 1 at NECSA, of which the latter is mostly used for research purposes.