Thursday, March 6, 2008

SA names partners for nuclear reactor programme

SA names partners for nuclear reactor programme

By: Reuters
Published: 5 Mar 08 - 10:09

South Africa's advanced nuclear reactor technology programme will include US-based Westinghouse Electric as a partner and a new shareholders' contract is expected by the end of the month, an official said on Tuesday.

South Africa is currently testing elements of the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) and wants to build 24-30 PBMR reactors for its own energy needs.

Lynette Milne, CFO of Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (Pty) Ltd (PBMR) set up in 1999 to develop and market the technology, said a new shareholders' contract will also include South Africa's government, the Industrial Development Corporation and power utility Eskom.

"The status on the shareholders' agreement is that we still anticipate signing by the end of March 2008," Milne said in an email reply to questions.

"In terms of the existing cooperation agreement, PBMR is 100 percent owned by Eskom. This will change in the shareholders' agreement where the other contributors to the project, being IDC, Westinghouse and government (through DPE), will also be issued shares in PBMR in proportion to their contributions historically," Milne said.

Westinghouse in majority-owned by Japan's Toshiba Corp..

South Africa is gripped by a power shortage as Eskom struggles to meet demand.

The country's mining industry ground to a halt for five days in January as rolling blackouts intensified and millions of homes were left without power.

The multi-billion rand PBMR is part of the country's efforts to move away from coal and boost waning capacity through nuclear power. The government said in 2005 it aimed to produce a demonstration reactor by 2011 and a commercial model by 2012.

The reactor is an advanced design that claims to dramatically improve safety and efficiency, although environmentalists say it is unsafe and creates radioactive waste.

The high-temperature PBMR is a step change from conventional reactor technologies because the radioactive material in sealed in small "pebbles."

It will be built in modules, with groups of four or eight reactors sharing one infrastructure, facilitating expansion.

Although China and the United States are working on similar technology, South Africa is leading the field and plans to start construction of a demonstration plant next year, the PBMR company said last year.

State-owned Eskom plans to spend R343-billion increasing its generating capacity over the next five years and has invited bids for a new nuclear power station.


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