Pebble bed plug pulled

A decade and more than R9 billion after starting, government has pronounced South Africa’s attempts to research and build a pebble bed nuclear reactor officially dead.

Speaking in the National Assembly, Public Enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan told Ministers of Parliament (MPs) yesterday that after “careful consideration”, government was pulling the plug on its Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) project.

There would be no more government investment in the project, and PBMR (Pty) Ltd, established in 1999, would now be “drastically reduced to a handful of people, with the focus being on the retention of intellectual property, and of certain skills and the preservation of its assets”.

Hogan’s announcement was hailed by several opposition party MPs, who described the project as having been a gross waste of taxpayers’ money.

“All I can say today is vindication, vindication, vindication!” Independent Democrats MP Lance Greyling said in response.

“R9 billion worth of taxpayers’ money has been thrown at this project, even though it was clear from the international panel of economists, way back in 1999, that it would never be economically viable.”

He called for an independent forensic audit of the project “so that we can know the full extent of wastage that occurred on this wasteful project”.

The Democratic Alliance’s Pieter van Dalen said the PBMR could be labelled “fruitless and wasteful expenditure”, and the money better spent on building RDP houses.

Reasons for government’s final decision to halt the project included that the PBMR had not been able to secure an “anchor customer”, or another investment partner.

Further investment in the project would require “well in excess of an additional R30 billion”.

Also, should South Africa embark on a nuclear-build programme in the near future, it would not be using pebble bed technology.


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