Eskom to look at building pebble-bed nuclear plants

Eskom, South Africa’s indebted state power utility, is gauging interest from companies to develop and build small modular reactors using so-called pebble-bed technology and supplying the fuel they would need.

It will hold a meeting on the program on 12 February and submissions must be made by the end of next month, the Johannesburg-based company said in a tender announcement Thursday. Eskom could also seek to sell all or part of the business.

The announcement appears to revive a project mooted by Eskom in 1999, when it forecast development of the technology could generate billions of rand a year from licensing to other utilities.

In 2004, the utility held discussions with Areva SA and later Westinghouse Electric took a stake in the Eskom unit tasked with developing it. The project was closed in 2010 and employees associated with it lost their jobs.

“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.

The technology was initially developed in Germany and was further advanced in South Africa.

South Africa spent $980 million trying to develop the technology before abandoning the project, according to the World Information Service on Energy, or WISE.

At the time of the unit’s closure, building a prototype plant would have cost $1.8 billion, it said.

China is currently trying to develop its own plant based on the technology, according to WISE.

Read: South African mining companies want to start generating their own power

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Eskom to look at building pebble-bed nuclear plants