Eskom seeks interest in PBMR commercialisation

31 January 2020

South African utility Eskom yesterday published a request for an Expression of Interest in reviving all or parts of the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) project. It is seeking investors to take stakes in PBMR Ltd, the development and deployment of the reactor design, and in TRISO fuel manufacturing.

The PBMR reactor system (Image: PBMR Ltd)

The PBMR was to have been a small-scale high-temperature reactor using graphite-coated spherical uranium oxycarbide tristructural isotropic (TRISO) fuel, with helium as the coolant, able to supply process heat as well as generating electricity. The nature of the fuel in particular gives the reactor a high degree of passive safety, exploiting inherent safety characteristics depending on the physical properties of the system without the need for intervention.

Based on well-proved German technology, South Africa had been working on the PBMR project since 1993, and PBMR Ltd was established in 1999 with the intention of developing and marketing the reactor. However, in 2010 the government formally announced its decision no longer to invest in the project, which was then placed under 'care and maintenance' to protect its intellectual property and assets. PBMR Ltd was reincorporated into Eskom, its sole shareholder, in 2012.

Eskom said that, at the time the PBMR project was placed in care and maintenance, it was in the process of manufacturing the reactor pressure vessel, the core barrel assembly and reactor graphite internals for a demonstration 400 MWt/165 MWe plant. A smaller 200 MWe model - an indirect cycle design - of the PBMR was also in the concept design phase.

Eskom has now issued a request for an Expression of Interest for the "commercialisation of Pebble Bed Modular Reactor SOC Ltd (PBMR Ltd), design, development, manufacturing and construction of small modular reactors and supply of TRISO coated particle fuel for various reactor designs."

"Given the products created and preserved, PBMR remains capable of re-starting within a relatively short period of time, or alternatively its technology being taken over by a third party in its configured state and utilised elsewhere," Eskom said in the document.

It added, "The company seeks to take PBMR out of care and maintenance and commercialise the business. Companies interested in investing in PBMR reactor technology or fuel technology, securing an equity stake in PBMR Ltd, buying PBMR technology or products or embarking on other potential relationships or transactions, are invited to submit an Expression of Interest detailing proposals."

A briefing session will be held in Pelindaba on 24 February and the deadline for submissions is 28 February.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News