Eskom revives pebble beds

Eskom : Gianluigi Guercia, AFP
Eskom : Gianluigi Guercia, AFP

Eskom is gauging interest from companies to develop and build small modular reactors using so-called pebble-bed technology. A pebble-bed modular reactor (PBMR) is a design for a graphite-moderated, gas-cooled nuclear reactor.

The power utility will hold a meeting on the programme on February 12 and submissions must be made by the end of next month, it said in a tender announcement this week. Eskom could also seek to sell all or part of the business.

The announcement appears to revive a project mooted by Eskom in 1999, when it forecast that development of the technology could generate billions of rands a year from licensing to other utilities. In 2004, the utility held discussions with Areva SA and, later, Westinghouse Electric took a stake in the Eskom unit tasked with developing it.

The project was closed in 2010 and employees associated with it lost their jobs.

“PBMRs are capable of restarting within a relatively short period of time. Alternatively, its technology” could be taken over by another company, Eskom said.

“Companies interested in investing in PBMR technology or fuel technology, securing an equity stake in a PBMR, buying PBMR technology or products, or embarking on other potential relationships or transactions” should submit proposals.

The technology was initially developed in Germany and was further advanced in South Africa.

South Africa spent $980 million (R15 billion at today’s exchange rate) trying to develop the technology before abandoning the project, according to the World Information Service on Energy. At the time of the unit’s closure, building a prototype plant would have cost $1.8 billion, it said.

China is trying to develop its own plant based on the technology. Bloomberg

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