Rwanda Signs Deal With Canadian Startup To Build Nuclear Reactor4 min read
The new one-megawatt reactor is to be operational by 2026, with testing completed by 2028, the Rwandan government announced Tuesday. Rwanda will supply the site, located at a new nuclear research campus in the town of Nyamata, south of the capital city of Kigali, along with necessary infrastructure. Dual Fluid will build the reactor and train Rwandan scientists in nuclear technology.
Dual Fluid, which originated in Germany and was incorporated in Canada in 2021, said in a report last year that it had developed a “more effective method” of nuclear fission. But it has not yet built a reactor to test its design. The company is paying for the project in Rwanda, and will gain an opportunity to put its theories into practice.
For reactor startups, finding a demonstration site is a crucial milestone. With that in hand, Dual Fluid chief financial officer Björn Peters said, his company is now seeking to raise €70-million. He added that the company felt Canadian regulatory timelines for nuclear experiments were unacceptably long.
This reactor, a demonstration unit, won’t supply electricity to Rwanda’s power grid. Dual Fluid said last year its goal, by 2033, is to commence serial production of a 300-megawatt reactor model known as the DF300, which the company is marketing as a small modular reactor, or SMR.
Dual Fluid’s name reflects its proposal to use two fluids inside its reactors: metallic nuclear fuel heated to 1,000 degrees, and liquid lead to act as a coolant. These materials would replace the fuel rods used in many traditional reactors.
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Mr. Peters, who is also a co-founder of the company, said the demonstration reactor will be a “criticality experiment” that will prove the company’s theoretical physics work can be implemented. He said the trial will assess the performance of advanced ceramics used to to withstand extreme heat and other stresses.
“It’s the first brand-new reactor technology that has been developed in the last 50 to 60 years,” he said. “We need this experiment in order to plan for the power reactor,” he added, referring to the DF300.
At above 300 megawatts total, Rwanda’s current capacity to generate electricity is minuscule. The country’s grid is growing rapidly, but more slowly than the pace envisioned in national energy plans published by the Rwandan government in the past decade. The country has long relied on hydroelectric dams. Its other major energy sources include natural gas, peat and solar.
In 2018, Rwanda published a plan for its energy sector, aiming to grow power generation to meet all demand while maintaining a 15-per-cent surplus. It also sought to provide universal access to households.
The country’s government wants to add nuclear energy to its options. In 2019, it signed an agreement with Rosatom, a corporation controlled by the Russian government that specializes in nuclear energy, to establish the research centre where Dual Fluid will conduct its experiment. The following year, the country established the Rwanda Atomic Energy Board (RAEB) with the explicit goal of building a nuclear power plant.
Rwandan officials have particularly high expectations for small modular reactors. In an interview with the New Times, an English-language national newspaper, Fidel Ndahayo, the RAEB’s chief executive officer, said nuclear power could provide a stable source of low-carbon energy at the remarkably low rate of $60 per megawatt hour. “It has the lowest levelized cost of energy,” he said.
Mr. Peters said electricity produced by Dual Fluid’s DF300 will cost half as much as that produced by today’s nuclear or coal-fired plants.
Small modular reactors have yet to prove more cost effective than their larger predecessors. In its latest estimates of levelized costs of energy, published in April, Lazard, a financial advisory firm, said electricity from new nuclear plants costs between $141 and $221 per megawatt hour in the United States. This made nuclear among the most expensive options Lazard studied.
In an assessment of SMRs published in July, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development described all aspects of Dual Fluid’s reactor as being in the earliest stages of development.
The RAEB played down safety concerns about the Dual Fluid experiment, saying in a statement Tuesday that the prototype has “nuclear safety design features that make it accident-free.”
South Africa is the only African country with an operating nuclear power plant. That facility produced 10.1 million megawatt hours last year, amounting to just under 5 per cent of the country’s total generation. Construction of Egypt’s first nuclear power plant began last year on the country’s northwest coast.