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Friday, September 17, 2010

South Africa Ends Pebble Bed Modular Reactor Program

The Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) project has been cancelled and the program has been reduced to a few people with the focus now being on the retention of its intellectual property, certain skills and the preservation of its assets. The PBMR project has not been able to secure an anchor customer or another investment partner and it is estimated that further investment in the project could exceed an additional R30-billion. The Westinghouse consortium was lost in May when Westinghouse withdrew from the programme.

The government also announced that should the country embark on a nuclear build programme in the future it will not be using the PBMR technology, which was still in the research and design phase. The project has been missing deadlines constantly, with the construction of the first demonstration model delayed further and further into the future. Over the last years a total R9,244-billion has been invested in the PBMR project, government having contributed an amount R7,419-billion or 80,3% of that amount. Eskom also contributed 8,8% with Westinghouse and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) accounting for 4,9% each.

Originally, it was envisaged that Eskom would be the PBMR's anchor customer, with a possible purchase of up to 24 reactors as part of the country's expansion of its electricity generation capacity to meet increasing demand with a first demonstration PBMR to be constructed on the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station site in the Western Cape. "However, between 2005 and 2009, it became increasingly clear that, based on the direct-cycle electricity design, PBMR's potential investor and customer market was severely restricted and it was unable to acquire either; hence government has been constrained to make decisions about the future of the project. (Engineering News, 9/16/2010)

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