PBMR postponed

11 September 2009

South Africa's pebble bed modular reactor (PBMR) Demonstration Power Plant (DPP) project has been indefinitely postponed due to financing constraints.

Addressing the World Nuclear Association Annual Symposium, Jaco Kriek, CEO of the PBMR company, said that it has had to adopt a new business model "to reduce the funding obligations on the South African government." State-owned utility Eskom - PBMR's main sponsor - recently reported record losses and faces a massive funding shortfall in its expansion program.    

PBMR impression (PBMR Pty.)
What a PBMR plant could look like (Image: PBMR Pty)
Kriek said the company was now focusing on attracting funding from industries that could potentially use nuclear process heat. As a result, it has opted for a 200 MWt (80 MWe) design using a conventional Rankine cycle that will enable it to both produce steam and generate electricity. The company had previously planned to construct a 400 MWt (165 MWe) reactor using a full-scale Brayton cycle gas turbine. According to Kriek, the revised design of the PBMR could be deployed in several energy-intensive processes, including: coal gasification and liquefaction; oil extraction from tar sands; or desalination of seawater. However, in the current financial environment, "not many companies are keen to spend money on research and development," Kriek noted.

Kriek refused to give a date for when he expected construction of the PBMR DPP to commence. At a press briefing in June, Portia Molefe, the director general of the government Department of Public Enterprises (DPE), had confirmed 2018 as the target date for commissioning the DPP. However, Kriek told the meeting that this 2018 target date "will definitely move out."