As South Africa enters a weekend of load shedding, the embattled power producer is gauging interest from companies to develop small modular pebble-bed reactors.
This is not the first time South Africa has tried to build one of these kinds of nuclear plants proposed in 1999, but the project was ultimately scrapped in 2010. According to BussinessTech, they had already spent $980 million on the project before they scrapped it.
Now, Eskom will hold a meeting on 12 February to discuss interest in the programme, with submissions made by companies by the end of the same month.
“PBMR remains capable of restarting within a relatively short period of time, or, alternatively its technology could be taken over by another company,” Eskom said. “Companies interested in investing in PBMR reactor technology or fuel technology, securing an equity stake in PBMR, buying PBMR technology or products or embarking on other potential relationships or transactions should submit proposals.”
What is a pebble-bed modular reactor?
A pebble-bed modular reactor is a particular kind of pebble-bed reactor designed by the South African company PBMR (Pty) Ltd.
It is based on pebble-bed technology initially developed in Germany.
This original design is a graphite-moderated, gas-cooled nuclear reactor. It uses spherical fuel elements which are called pebbles. These are the size of a tennis ball and are made of pyrolytic graphite and contain micro-fuel particles called TRISO particles. These contain the fissile material and are kept together to create the reactor core.
South Africa’s development of the design will use the same technology but at a smaller level. These mid-sized units would be combined to form a larger power station.
Pebble-bed technology was designed to provide a safer nuclear alternative to light-water reactors. With better reinforcements for containment and can passively be reduced to a safe power-level in an accident scenario.