Pebble-bed Modular Reactor Limited: briefing


08 November 2005
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Meeting Summary

A summary of this committee meeting is not yet available.

Meeting report

8 November 2005

Chairperson: Mr L Zita (ANC)

Documents handed out:
PBMR Power Point Presentation

Part1, Part2 & Part3

The Chief Executive Officer of Pebble-bed Modular Reactor Limited briefed the Committee on the pebble-bed modular reactor project; how it would benefit South Africa with the growing demand for cleaner electricity, and how it would meet energy development challenges efficiently. The Committee raised concerns about safety and employment equity as well as cost effectiveness. It was agreed that an open debate with environmental groups present should take place so that the Committee could hear all sides of the issue and have its questions answered.


Pebble-bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) Limited briefing
Mr J Kriek, CEO briefed the Committee. The PBMR was a high temperature reactor with a gas turbine power conversion system. It was comprised of a small-scale helium-cooled graphite moderated temperature reactor. The plant consisted of a single building with a reactor vessel and a power conversion unit.

Mr Kriek stated that the world’s energy requirements had escalated at a rate greater than population growth. Wind, solar and wave energy sources showed limited large-scale viability, despite massive investment and ongoing research. Fossil fuels provided 80% of global energy requirements, but offered serious threats to the environment and seriously undermined the Kyoto Protocol.

PBMR Limited intended to build a demonstration module at Koeberg near Cape Town and an associated fuel plant at Pelindaba near Pretoria. They wanted to commercialise and market 165MW modules for the local and export markets and transform PBMR Limited into a world class company.

Mr Kriek said that there has been a resurgence in nuclear power internationally since the 1980s. There were thirty nuclear power plants being built in twelve countries around the world. The United States of America had recently created a new Energy Bill that described nuclear power as one of the nation’s most important sources of energy. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) predicted that at least sixty new reactors would become operational in the next fifteen years.

Mr Kriek stated that the benefits of the PBMR to South Africa were the ability to move away from coal; it would allow localisation of manufacture subcontracts; 56 000 local jobs would be created, and there would be a R23 billion positive impact on the balance of payments.

Safety features of the PBMR included a simple design so that if a fault occurred, the system would shut itself down, the transfer medium was chemically inert, and the particles were coated so that the uranium was protected. There was no need for a safety back up or off-site emergency plans.

Mr Kriek concluded that PBMR project construction would start in 2007 and the first commercial models would be completed by 2013. He stated this project would "light up South Africa so that it was no longer the dark spot in the world".

Mr G Morgan (DA) asked for clarity about financing and timelines. To date, the project had cost upwards of R14 billion and had fifteen timeline changes. How could they be certain that the project would not need more funds and take longer to complete? He also wanted to know how they were the leaders in this technology when the United States of America and China seemed to be stating the same.

Mr Kriek stated that communication about the budget for this project had not been ideal or clear in the past. The first R2 billion was for the demonstration reactor. Of the R14, 5 billion, R4, 5 billion was for inflation and contingencies, R1, 5 billion was for the pilot fuel plant and R3, 5 billion was for the commercial fuel plant, and its design. The remaining funds went to employing over 500 people, of whom fifty had PhDs. He stated that this was not a cheap project and they had very high overhead costs.

The schedule was subject to a regulatory process that was outside their control. They did not want to take short cuts, but the schedule was a parallel process that had to be deliberated with other parts of the world; for instance, they had contracts with Germany that needed negotiation. He stated that although other countries had this technology, they wanted South Africa to be the first to successfully use it.

Mr L Greyling (ID) stated that there needed to be more of a public debate about this issue, where professionals from other organisations who were environmental experts could effectively argue another side to this project. He wanted to know if the project would be financially viable for South Africa and if it would bring down the cost of electricity. He also wanted to know about safety. The technology had first been developed in Germany; however they declined to use this model because of safety issues. Was it now safe all of a sudden? Were helium-cooled reactors used anywhere else in the world?

Mr Kriek responded that the Atomic Energy Foundation had evaluated the future of nuclear power usage in South Africa and it had reached positive conclusions. The German project was in the 1980s when it was not popular to pursue nuclear power. The project also had flaws and encountered small technical problems. For instance, the Germans used eighteen control rods in the core process, which broke the pebbles. The core critical component had now been demonstrated and they added a helium turbine so that it could function safely. They believed that the combined technology reactor had been proven to be safe. The design would be able to handle the most severe accidents, like the rupture of a pipeline and release of helium. There would not even be a need for an evacuation. South Africa would be safe from any catastrophic event.

Mr Kriek stated that they had scheduled four public hearings and would give the public an opportunity to debate the issue. The current price of electricity was very low and it was difficult to speculate whether the PBMR would bring down the cost of electricity in the future. Mr Kriek was convinced that funding could be maintained and that they had the momentum to finish the project.

Ms C Zikalala (IFP) wanted to know what percentage of the employees were black and how many women did they employ. Were they doing anything to increase these numbers?

Mr Kriek responded that 30% of the employees were women, and they were 50% employment equity compliant. They had the first black women executive in the nuclear industry.

Ms R Ndzanga (ANC) wanted to know how the PBMR would benefit people living in rural areas. Coal was becoming increasingly expensive and a lot of people in rural areas simply could not afford it. Was there a possibility of a reactor being built closer to the rural areas? She also wanted to know if the PBMR project would assist technology development in the rural areas.

Mr Kriek stated that a decision had been made to situate the first PBMR on the coast. However, there was a need for reactors in rural areas so that they could have access to clean energy. They were increasing their capacity to include Masters’ degree students as well as PhDs; the students that worked on the rural projects have been employed.

Ms J Chalmers (ANC) wanted to know if there was any way of completing the project before the target date of 2013, and how they were protecting their information technology.

Mr Kriek stated that the project would take time and that they would like it to be sooner, but it also had to be done effectively.

The Chairperson wanted clarification on storage of waste material.

Mr Kriek stated that the PBMR project would minimise waste to a volume of 4% which was a vast improvement on other types of reactors.

The meeting was adjourned.



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