JOHANNESBURG – We have heard a great deal about the price of coal recently and how critical the coal price is to the production of electricity at a coal-fired power station. This is rather obvious.
What people are generally very unaware of is how nuclear fuel works. Yes, people have heard of uranium going into a nuclear reactor. But you don’t throw blocks of uranium into a reactor, like charcoal on the braai.
The uranium is fabricated into “fuel elements”. The traditional type is a group of tubes about as thick as a finger. These tubes, with a uranium oxide in them, are known to the public as “fuel rods”. A group of fuel rods tied together, form a fuel element.
Reactors such as those at Koeberg near Cape Town run on fuel elements almost four metres in length and with a cross-section about the size of two loaves of bread.
A critically important factor with nuclear fuel is that to the eye the element that goes into the reactor looks exactly the same as when it comes out, after 18 months of life. There is no waste ash, or gas given off, or residue of any sort.