Sunday, March 23, 2008

PBMR reactor design gets on track

A commercial reactor could be in operation by 2013

After a series of fits and starts development of the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) appears to be getting back on track. According to wire service reports in South Africa the demonstration reactor design is completed, and construction is due to start next year, with the first fuel to be loaded four years later. If successful, another 10 plants could be built. It looks like the PBMR train is finally leaving the station.

A full size commercial plant could be in operation as early as 2013 according to Robert Peters, a senior consultant at the fuel development laboratories for PBMR. The demonstration reactor is to be built at Koeberg outside Cape Town and a pilot fuel plant at Pelindaba near Pretoria.

The project is supported by the government, Eskom, the Industrial Development Corporation, and US companies Westinghouse and Exelon. The commissioning of the first commercial pebble bed plant is scheduled for 2013.

Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin is reported to have announced that the government is looking to produce 4,000 to 5,000 MWe of power from pebble bed reactors, which equates to between 20 and 30 modular reactors of 165MW each. It is also possible the government may choose to construct larger units. PBMR has sought investment in the project from Japan's Mitsubishi.

“The plan is to order 14 units, but decisions regarding future PBMR units are dependent on the PBMR demonstration power plant being authorized, constructed and successfully commissioned,” said Erwin.

Eskom is reportedly advertising 900 engineering positions to support its aggressive plans to rapidly build nuclear power plants in South Africa. The turn around follows years of layoffs and downsizing.

Erwin also noted that there are more than 5,000 students in different stages in the training pipeline and that major projects such as the construction of new power stations are contracted as turnkey projects "to ensure that winning bidders bring in additional skills".

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