Dramatic rescue announced at IAEA meeting
U.S. Department of Energy officials today know what it is like to be a hero like the Lone Ranger. With a shout, metaphorically speaking, of "hi yo Silver away!" heard halfway accross the globe, U.S. Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu has come to the rescue of South Africa's PBMR Pebble Bed reactor project.
The action occurs just days after a dramatic announcement last Friday at the World Nuclear Association meeting in London by PBMR CEO Jaco Kriek, who said construction of a prototype plant has been "indefinitely postponed" due to financial constraints based on the dire straits of Eskom, its primary customer. At this point the Pebble Bed Reactor project was on the rocks.
Kriek said PBMR is now looking at a new business model and a 50% smaller reactor design. The firm is seeking investors from industries that want a carbon emission free source of process heat. Examples include coal gasification, salt water desalinization, and oil extraction from tar sands.
Not only is Chu's pre-emptive action filled with the drama of rescuing a fair damsel in distress, it also takes place at a high profile, multi-lateral meeting occurring at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria. The U.S. decision to save the Pebble Bed project is visible to the world's nuclear energy powers in a way that could not possibly be matched in any other setting or time.
It also represents the clearest signal to date that the Obama administration is cognizant of the value of nuclear energy in the response to global climate change. The agreement followed discussions by President Obama and President Zuma during the July G-8 Summit and subsequent bilateral discussions by U.S. and South African senior officials on a broad range of nuclear energy issues in Pretoria, South Africa last month.
What’s in the deal?
Energy Secretary Chu and South African Minister of Energy Dipuo Peters signed the bilateral agreement on cooperative R&D for nuclear energy on Sept 14 in Vienna. The agreement sets the basis for cooperation in the areas of advanced nuclear energy systems and reactor technologies. The two countries will collaborate on improving the cost, safety, and proliferation-resistance of nuclear power systems. The agreement will also expand efforts to promote and maintain nuclear science and engineering infrastructure and expertise in both countries.
"As the world moves to address the climate crisis and cut carbon pollution, it is clear that nuclear energy has a major role to play in our energy future," said Secretary Chu. "This agreement reflects our commitment to a new, clean energy economy and strong partnerships with nations around the world to address our shared climate and energy challenges."
PBMR and NGNP will meet on the Arco desert
One potential area of cooperation will likely be R&D with South Africa’s Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) and the US Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP), which are both high temperature gas-cooled reactors. The NGNP project is underway at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL)The research will focus on development of Generation IV technologies and to draw on the unique expertise of each country.
Today's announcement will inject new life into both the PBMR project in South Africa and the NGNP reactor design developments. Cheers can be heard in Idaho Falls all the way from Pretoria.
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