South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) board chairperson David Nicholls, who yesterday in a statement welcomed Cabinet’s approval of the MPR reactor. Photo: Facebook
South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) board chairperson David Nicholls, who yesterday in a statement welcomed Cabinet’s approval of the MPR reactor. Photo: Facebook

Necsa’s new research reactor will bolster its position in global market of radioisotopes

By Edward West Time of article published Sep 28, 2021

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THE MULTIPURPOSE Reactor (MPR) to succeed the Safari-1 nuclear reactor at Pelindaba will secure South Africa’s position as one of the top four producers of radioisotopes in the world and further nuclear technology research in the country.

This was according to South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (Necsa) board chairperson David Nicholls, who yesterday in a statement welcomed Cabinet’s approval of the MPR reactor.

There are 12 nuclear research reactors in Africa.

The Safari-1 reactor near Pretoria, a 20MW light water-cooled research reactor, went critical on March 18, 1965.

Nicholls said some 5 000 direct and 26 000 indirect jobs would be created during construction of the MPR.

The tentative date of start of construction is 2025.

It would provide employment to about 750 full-time employees and an additional 3 800 indirect jobs for its operation and fulfilment of its research mandate during its operational lifetime.

The MPR is intended to succeed Safari-1 when it reaches its end of life – Safari-1 has operated for more than 56 years without any major safety incidents.

Nicholls said the Cabinet approval allowed for good lead-time required in rolling out the procurement and construction of the MPR, so that the radioisotope production, research and development and related nuclear technology innovations continue without interruption.

Necsa group chief executive Loyiso Tyabashe said Necsa subsidiary NTP Radioisotopes was a leading global producer of reactor-based radioisotopes.

Medical radioisotopes manufactured at Pelindaba include active pharmaceutical ingredients such as Molybdenum-99, I-131 and Lutetium-177, which are mainly exported in bulk as input material for radio-pharmaceutical products used for the diagnosis of serious illnesses and the treatment of cancers.

Necsa, by virtue of its Safari-1 research reactor, formed a cornerstone of nuclear medicine domestically and globally, through its production of radio-pharmaceutical products, said Tyabashe.

“The realisation of the MPR project will ensure SA remains among the top four global radioisotopes producers as well as ensuring continuation of research and development on nuclear technology.

This places Necsa on a path to provide much-needed radioactive isotopes for medical and industrial applications, execution of research through beam lines, and jobs which are essential for our economy.”

Tyabashe said the MPR provided a multitude of options to produce new radioisotopes that were considered the future in therapeutic nuclear medicine.

These included production of short range radioisotopes that would be delivered by smart delivery systems to tumour cells radiating cell by cell and thereby eliminating the cancer while preserving surrounding healthy tissue.

Research collaborations with academia and industry using neutron beam line techniques contribute to Safari-1’s scientific visibility, and it was playing prominent roles in projects with many South African universities in advanced research and postgraduate qualifications.

The MPR would expand these research capabilities and outputs substantially, said Tyabashe.

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