Physics of learn­ing in Rus­sia

CityPress - - Business - – Yolandi Groe­newald

Mapheto Ma­si­bane grew up in a small vil­lage near Le­bowak­gomo in Lim­popo. Now the 18-year-old is trav­el­ling to Rus­sia to study nu­clear physics as one of the first stu­dents to visit the coun­try since South Africa signed a mem­o­ran­dum of agree­ment with Rus­sian state nu­clear agency, Rosatom.

“I want to work in one of South Africa’s new nu­clear power sta­tions,” said Ma­si­bane. “That is my dream.”

Three South African stu­dents will visit Rosatom sites in Rus­sia, in­clud­ing a nu­clear power plant, a nu­clear fuel plant – in­clud­ing spent nu­clear fuel re­cy­cling plants – and other Rus­sian nu­clear energy sites.

The stu­dents won an es­say com­pe­ti­tion on “ful­fill­ing the energy needs and de­vel­op­ing nu­clear in­dus­try in South Africa”. The com­pe­ti­tion is one of many out­reach ini­tia­tives by Rosatom in the coun­try.

Ma­si­bane is in his third year of stud­ies at the Univer­sity of the Wit­wa­ter­srand. He is study­ing for a BSc in me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing, spe­cial­is­ing in nu­clear science. He boasts an im­pres­sive CV, hav­ing ma­tric­u­lated when he was only 15 and get­ting 100% for maths to boot.

In his es­say for the com­pe­ti­tion, Ma­si­bane raised the fear of many South Africans that cor­rup­tion would dog any nu­clear pro­cure­ment pro­gramme.

He said: “Nu­clear pro­grammes are ex­pen­sive to es­tab­lish, es­pe­cially the power sta­tions. But de­spite the price of con­struc­tion be­ing high, the ben­e­fits are never re­ported.

“The South African public has not been told about the low op­er­at­ing cost, sta­ble elec­tric­ity prices and also the large power-gen­er­at­ing ca­pac­ity to meet all de­mands.”

He said nu­clear energy was a tes­ta­ment to the idea that you have to spend money to get money.

The win­ner of the com­pe­ti­tion was Eb­hard Nilsen, a North-West Univer­sity stu­dent who grew up on a farm in Groot Marico in North West.

Nilsen is in his fi­nal year of stud­ies. He is study­ing me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing at the univer­sity, where he re­ceived a dis­tinc­tion in nu­clear en­gi­neer­ing.

His es­say fo­cused on how to achieve the max­i­mum level of lo­cal in­put in the build­ing of nu­clear re­ac­tors in South Africa.

He ex­am­ined which in­dus­tries would ben­e­fit most from the lo­cal­i­sa­tion of nu­clear power plants’ con­struc­tion, and how lo­cal­i­sa­tion in the nu­clear in­dus­try could ig­nite South Africa’s econ­omy.

Nilsen said he saw him­self as a con­struc­tion or main­te­nance engi­neer at any one of the pro­posed nu­clear power plants. He be­lieves nu­clear is the way to go for South Africa.

“We have past ex­pe­ri­ences with nu­clear re­ac­tors, Koe­berg and the Sa­fari re­ac­tors,” he said. “Both of the re­ac­tors are ma­jor suc­cesses, which makes pass­ing the knowl­edge over to the new nu­clear power plants so much eas­ier.

“Se­condly, with the elec­tric­ity grid un­der the cur­rent strain, the ob­vi­ous so­lu­tion to pro­vid­ing a large amount of base-load elec­tric­ity is nu­clear.

“Nu­clear re­ac­tors can sup­ply cleaner and more sus­tain­able elec­tric­ity com­pared with coal power sta­tions.”

Nilsen said pro­grammes like Rosatom would go a long way to build­ing the skills nec­es­sary for South Africa’s nu­clear fu­ture.

The other prize win­ner, Sandile Ku­malo, a third-year Wits stu­dent from Vosloorus, said go­ing to Rus­sia would give him the op­por­tu­nity to see all the the­ory that he had learnt be­come re­al­ity.

“I’m ex­cited about see­ing a real re­ac­tor op­er­at­ing in real time,” he said. “The Rus­sian re­ac­tor – the VVR – is to­tally dif­fer­ent from the ones we have here.”

Ku­malo, who is study­ing for a BSc with an en­gi­neer­ing op­tion, said his love for physics had pushed him to­wards the nu­clear field. His as­pi­ra­tion, not sim­ply to pass but to ex­cel, at­tracted him to a tu­tor who sparked his love for nu­clear physics. Ku­malo is now a tu­tor him­self and hopes to in­spire a new gen­er­a­tion in Soweto to be­come ex­cited about tech­nol­ogy.

PHOTO: LUCKY NXUMALO

POW­ER­FUL

DUO Sandile Ku­malo (left) and Mapheto Ma­si­bane

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