By: BuaNews, SA government news service
16 Sep 10
Government has decided to no longer invest in the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) project, says Public Enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan told the National Assembly on Thursday.
“Without going into too much detail right now, government, after careful deliberation, analysis and review, and mindful of the fiscal constraints in these hard economic times, has had to make a decision to no longer invest in this project,” Minister Hogan said.
Hogan said the scale and size of the company was now being reduced to a few people with the focus now being on the retention of its intellectual property, and of certain skills, and the preservation of its assets.
She said government’s decision had not been taken lightly and that government was mindful of the impact this would have on the future careers and livelihoods of the PBMR employees.
“Nor have we lost sight of the significant investment already made by government in this project and the impressive scientific advances already achieved in pioneering this particular form of nuclear technology,” she explained.
The minister said government had to consider the fact that the PBMR has not been able to secure an anchor customer or another investment partner and that further investment in the project could well be in excess of an additional R30-billion.
The project has been missing deadlines constantly, with the construction of the first demonstration model delayed further and further into the future. Additionally, the opportunity afforded to PBMR to participate in the US’s Next Generation Nuclear Plant (NGNP) programme as part of the Westinghouse consortium was lost in May when Westinghouse withdrew from the programme.
Should the country embark on a nuclear build programme in the future it will not be using the PBMR technology, which was still in the research and design phase.
“Finally, the severity of the current economic downturn, and the strains that it has placed on the fiscus, as well as the nature and scale of government’s current developmental priorities, has forced government to reprioritise its spending obligations and therefore, of necessity, to make certain tough decisions – this being one of them.”
Government had commissioned an independent high-level review of the project, and an inter-Departmental Task Team (IDTT) was set up under an Inter-ministerial Committee (IMC) to carefully consider and evaluate various options available.
The company will be downsized by 75% and approximately 600 employees have already left the employ of the company in terms of prescribed procedures. The retrenchment of the remaining staff will also continue while the Fuel Development Laboratory (FDL) on the NECSA premises will be decommissioned under the auspices of NECSA and the Helium Test Facility (HTF) while it will also be mothballed.
Several recommendations of the IMC have been approved by Cabinet including that the PBMR will be placed in a ‘care and maintenance mode’ to protect the intellectual property and the assets in PBMR.
The HTTF facility at Northwest University will only be mothballed should the university not wish to continue to utilise the facility.
The Department of Higher Education and the Department of Energy will seek to ensure that nuclear graduate programmes at universities such as the University of the North West are maintained and supported. A review and audit will be done of the PBMR project, which will also assist in capturing the lessons learnt from such an undertaking. It will also identify any outstanding course of action still needed to be undertaken, with a particular focus on corporate governance aspects.
Over the last years a total R9,244-billion has been invested in the PBMR project, government having contributed an amount R7,419-billion or 80,3% of that amount. Eskom also contributed 8,8% with Westinghouse and the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) accounting for 4,9% each.
A feasibility study on the project started in 2000 and in 2003 the National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) reported a positive view on the possibility of the licensing thereof. In 2005 PBMR’s focus shifted to work needed for the licensing of a Demonstration Power Plant and the detailed design work required for manufacturing long lead-time items of plant for PBMR.
The funding given by government was intended to ensure the continuation of the project while providing a firm foundation for the acquisition of additional private sector investment into the project and an anchor customer.
Originally, it was envisaged that Eskom would be the PBMR’s anchor customer, with a possible purchase of up to 24 reactors as part of the country’s expansion of its electricity generation capacity to meet increasing demand with a first demonstration PBMR to be constructed on the Koeberg Nuclear Power Station site in the Western Cape.
“However, between 2005 and 2009, it became increasingly clear that, based on the direct-cycle electricity design, PBMR’s potential investor and customer market was severely restricted and it was unable to acquire either; hence government has been constrained to make decisions about the future of the project.
“It is absolutely clear from all the high-level reviews that have been undertaken that there is no doubt about the validity of Pebble Bed Technology itself. The main feature of the Pebble Bed Reactor is that its safety features are inherent in the physics of the design, as opposed to add-on engineered safety features as found on current Light Water Reactor (LWR) nuclear plants,” said the minister.
Hogan said that some of the universities had benefitted from this investment and were able to offer courses related to nuclear research and training that would not have been possible without such an investment.
However, the closing of the project will result in a leakage of skills, which is regrettable but unavoidable. “We do envisage the further up-skilling and training of a younger generation of scientists and technicians who have benefitted from our investments in PBMR.” – BuaNews
PELINDABA WORKING GROUP calls for audits on PBMR legacy
Pelindaba Working Group joins thousands of unseen South Africans who stood together as “interested and affected parties” to oppose the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor over the past decade and now welcomes the announcement that government will shut it down.
We call for a full, transparent audit and investigation on the PBMR Company and its allies at the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (NECSA), as well as an environmental audit into whatever emissions and radioactive or chemical releases this discredited project may have caused. The nuclear industry is notorious for putting the public at risk during nuclear experimental work and then covering up the truth.
In particular, the National Nuclear Regulator should be brought to book for giving the PBMR a clean bill of health despite repeated warnings that the technology is not safe. It was eventually the US Regulator that failed the PBMR for safety reasons after well over R9 billion taxpayer funds were squandered. Warnings were also made in thousands of pages of submissions to the Department of Environment (DoE).
It is inconceivable that South Africa should consider a nuclear future when it cannot rely on its regulator for protection. Now that the law has been changed, the DoE has fobbed the issue of radiological safety to the NNR alone. Pelindaba Working Group insists that whatever emissions and environmental contamination was caused by the years of experimentation on the PBMR – especially at the Pelindaba site – be fully investigated and disclosed to the public. NECSA must disclose the various stacks still currently spewing emissions from its Pelindaba site.
We welcome the Minister’s announcement that the so-called “Fuel Development Laboratory” which went up at NECSA’s Pelindaba complex will be decommissioned and the Helium Test Facility will also be mothballed. Nuclear pebbles had indeed been manufactured on site and sent to Russia for testing despite no official license for the Fuel Factory ever being granted. This is scandalous.
Residents in this area should be warned not to trust the nuclear industry and to become more involved to force it out of our area. They persist with plans for uranium enrichment plants, radioactive waste smelter plants, and a new research nuclear reactor. A full Environmental Impact Assessment was NEVER conducted on the site before it was established in the 1960s.
Tragic is the waste of taxpayers’ money, the 12 years wasted that could rather have produced viable and safe alternative energy projects, and still untold are the damaging effects this shameful project has had on the health and lives of people.
For more information contact:
083 740 4676
ID calls for probe into government’s nuclear project
Chantall Presence |
The Independent Democrats on Friday called for a forensic audit to get to the bottom of what it called the squandering of taxpayers’ money on the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor.
Public enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan on Thursday told MPs cabinet approved the winding down of the PBMR as government could not afford further investments.
“The scale and size of the company is being drastically reduced to a handful of people, with the focus being on the attention if it’s intellectual property and the attention of certain skills, in the preservation of its assets,” she said.
Lance Greyling criticised the nuclear project and called for government to invest in alternative energy sources.
Greyling said he has been vindicated through the decision.
“I was ridiculed for my stance from that side of the house but today it is clear that this was a momentous waste of government’s resources. That money could have been far better used to position South Africa as a leader in solar energy,” he said.
Democratic Alliance spokesperson Pieter van Dalan added, “The R10 billion it has cost the tax payer would have been better spent to have built 200,000 much needed RDP houses, which would have gone a long way in addressing the housing shortage that currently exists.”
PBMR TO SHUT DOWN!
16 SEPTEMBER 2010
Earthlife Africa – Johannesburg welcomes the announcement by the Minister of Public Enterprises, Ms Barbara Hogan, to the National Assembly on 16 September 2010, on the shutting down of the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor.
The Minister added that government has spent almost R7.419 billion (80.3% of the total amount of R9.244 billion). We call on the Minister to conduct a full audit of the PBMR company by the auditor general. Furthermore, Parliament should conduct a full and transparent investigation.
We hope that government will learn from this tragic and wasteful experieince. The money spent on the PBMR could have been better utilised in the health and education sectors. Such waste of taxpayers’ money must not be experienced again. We therefore urge government to refrain from building any other nuclear reactors in the future.
Government must increase its investment and commitment to renewable energy technologies to ensure a clean and sustainable energy supply for South Africa.
For more information contact:
Tel: +27 11 339 3662
Fax: +27 11 339 3270
Cell: +2774-181 3197
Tel: +27 11 339 3662
Fax: +27 11 339 3270
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