Category Archives: Pbmr – Pebble Bed

Pebble Bed Modular Nuclear Reactors

Reply by Barbara Hogan on Questions posed in Parliament regarding PBMR project

Reply by Minister of Public Enterprises, B Hogan, on questions posed in the National Assembly for written reply

27 Aug 2010

Question No.: 2309

Mr M A Nhanha (Congress of the People) to ask the Minister of Public Enterprises:

Whether the government has decided what to do with all the facilities, materials, goods and equipment procured for the Pebble-Bed Modular Nuclear Reactor (PBMR), including the tank that is being shipped from Spain, in order to recoup part of its massive investment in the project; if not, why not; if so, what are the relevant details?


In proposing that PBMR company moves to a care and maintenance mode, consideration was given to ensure protection of valuable intellectual property and assets held by PBMR and the retention of nuclear skills developed by PBMR for the South African nuclear industry.

In terms of the assets, the following has been proposed and approved by Cabinet:

The activities on the fuel development laboratory (FDL) have been suspended. This triggers a decommissioning of the facility in terms of the law. In terms of the back to back agreement with Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa(NECSA) on the decommissioning liability NECSA will call on the provision that PBMR has made for the dismantling and decommissioning of the facility.

PBMR has suspended all operation at the Helium Test Facility (HTF), also on the NECSA premises. This will be mothballed to allow for activities to be restarted in the future.

The HTTF facility at North West University will only be mothballed should that University not wish to continue to utilise the facility.

The Reactor Pressure Vessel (RPV) was one of the components of the demonstration power plant. The RPV was designed specifically for PBMR needs. The RPV is being imported to South Africa from Spain. NECSA has indicated that they will be willing to store the RPV for PBMR at no charge until it is known if this RPV can be used in future for another purpose.

Source: Department of Public Enterprises

Issued by: Department of Public Enterprises
27 Aug 2010

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SA officially ends support to PBMR as activists rejoice & call for probes

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:

Dominique Gilbert

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.”




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:

Ferrial Adam

Tel: +27 11 339 3662
Fax: +27 11 339 3270
Cell: +2774-181 3197



Tristen Taylor

Tel: +27 11 339 3662
Fax: +27 11 339 3270
Cell: +27842502434

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Corruption paper on PBMR

A surprise announcement was delivered to the pebble bed modular reactor (PMBR) project in South Africa’s 2010 budget – it would no longer obtain significant state funds. As a result the project had to dismiss 75 per cent of its staff. It had spent in the region of nine billion rands of state funds without having realised any of its plans. Furthermore, it had been unable to attract significant outside investment or potential clients.

Given the central importance of energy policy in South Africa, it is more important than ever that projects like the PBMR are evaluated for their necessity, viability, affordability, sustainability, and contribution to the country’s development path. While the government appears to have dropped the PBMR for the present, recent media rhetoric suggests that it is still committed to adding substantial amounts of nuclear power to its future energy mix. This effort seems to being made without first addressing problems relating to democratic governance, public policy making and promoting the special interests of lobby groups. This paper, by Dr David Fig,  seeks to raise such issues within an appraisal of the country’s checkered nuclear history and its development aspirations.

It is not surprising therefore that the new paper titled: “Nuclear energy rethink?  The rise and demise of South Africa’s Pebble Bed Modular Reactor, ISS Paper No 210, David Fig, April 2010″  is produced by  the Institute for Security Studies’  “publications on corruption “.

It can be downloaded as a PDF (803KB) from       http:///

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Government pulls plug on PBMR

Jul 18, 2010 | By PREGA GOVENDER

The government has pulled the plug on its ambitious nuclear energy programme after pumping more than R9-billion into it over more than 11 years. There have been suggestions that this figure is far higher than declared and allegations that PBMR funding resulted in various slush funds. There are also suggestions that the PBMR project may continue to be funded in the US and may yet try to rear its ugly head in South Africa. What we want to know is what will happen with the PBMR “test” fuel factory established at Pelindaba and why were no environmental reports made public from the several years of pebbles experimentation that transpired in the hills of Hartbeespoortdam? And what ever became of the nuclear pebbles produced at Pelindaba that were shipped overseas for testing? – Comment from CANE

The Pebble Bed Modular Reactor Company (PBMR), which was established in 1999 to build small nuclear power reactors, faces imminent closure.

In a letter dated July 5, Public Enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan told the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM): “The minister of finance has clearly stated that there will be no further funding for the company, and I would like to reiterate that this position has not changed.

“It is clear that the remainder of the cash on hand is to be utilised solely for the winding down of the company as well as the preservation of the intellectual property.”

One objective was to design, license and build a prototype nuclear reactor plant, which, if successful, would have paved the way for building small power plants to help meet SA’s needs.

The company operates as an independent entity governed by an agreement between founding investors Eskom, the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and US nuclear giant Westinghouse.

It has spent R5-billion on projects since 1994, including R2.7-billion on a demonstration power plant, which was to have been built at the Western Cape’s Koeberg nuclear power station, but was later scrapped. In the process, the company wasted R268-million on the manufacture of a major component of the demonstration power plant, a 2000-ton reactor pressure vessel.

The vessel, which is due to leave the Spanish port of Santander next Sunday, will be stored at Saldanha Bay for R10000 a month as the company can no longer afford the R1.4-million it will cost to transport it to Pretoria.

Business Times was told that the company decided to have the component shipped to SA as it would have been liable for R34-million in VAT had it remained in Spain. Nuclear experts were unanimous this week that the vessel would have to be scrapped as the PBMR company changed the original design of the demonstration power plant last year to 200MW from 400MW. The vessel can function in a 400MW power plant only.

Although the part is unfinished, as the contract for its construction was cancelled last year, PBMR was forced to pay the Spanish builder R268-million for the incomplete product. The original contract price was R317-million.

Payments to companies that made parts for the demonstration power plant include:

  • R503.2-million to Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for a helium turbine for the power plant;
  • R256.8-million to German company SGL Carbon for manufacturing carbon reflector blocks; and
  • R256-million for graphite for the demonstration power plant.

The company also spent millions of rands manufacturing coated uranium oxide particles encapsulated in graphite fuel spheres, which were sent to Russia for testing.

However, staff say the financial cut-off did not stop the company recently giving golden handshakes of R1.8-million each to some of its general managers.

Last year, the company’s 11 executives were paid a combined R18-million in salaries and other benefits. Other big payments since 1994 include:

  • R2-billion to mostly overseas consultants;
  • R115.9-million for building rental;
  • R707.9-million for the construction of a pilot fuel plant; and
  • R172-million for overheads.

Hogan recently turned down a rescue plan proposed by the NUM that included a request for a R262-million government bail-out until March next year. In a detailed submission to Hogan, the union called on the auditor-general’s office to conduct a forensic investigation into the company’s financial affairs.

The union also called on the government to suspend the company’s board and executive officers. It said some engineers and scientists were “inappropriately qualified” for nuclear reactor engineering applications.

“The actions of certain individuals can be treated as sabotage for changing the design almost every second year. It seemed as if they did not want to see the reactor built.”

Union general secretary Frans Baleni deplored the company’s “wasteful expenditure. The closure is marked by serious allegations of corruption and unethical conduct. We would be pleased if it can be investigated thoroughly,” he said.

A nuclear expert employed at PBMR blamed the board and executives for the company’s failure. “The technology in terms of electricity production was good, but the only problem was that it was not well managed. Nothing was ever achieved by the company. It was a waste of taxpayers’ money.”

Eskom said in a short statement that it was a minority investor, and referred queries to PBMR.

PBMR’s acting chief executive Alex Tsela declined to comment, referring all questions to the company’s corporate communications department, which could not be reached for comment.

The chairman, Alistair Ruiters, could not be reached for comment either.

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4 South Africans busted in alleged ‘dirty bomb’ sting shootout at Pretoria petrol station – radioactive material recovered

10 July 2010

Closed-circuit video capture the shootout and arrest in South Africa where police obtained nuclear material that could have been used for a dirty bomb.

An international police sting at a Pretoria petrol station has netted four men involved in the sale of a highly radioactive metal suspected to be destined for use in a dirty bomb.

The high-risk operation by the Hawks’ specialised tactical unit was carried out yesterday.

Police recovered some Caesium-137 contained in a protective cover, but admitted they had yet to find a larger device, which was set to be sold on the black market for R45 million.

CCTV footage shows how undercover members of the Hawks’ organised crime unit stormed through a Sasol garage, opening fire on the suspects with semi-automatic weapons, sending terrified customers, motorists and petrol attendants fleeing.

Within moments of arresting the Mamelodi and Vanderbijlpark men, who are aged between 35 and 50, environmental officers and a field team of South African nuclear specialists sealed off the area as they gathered air samples and conducted tests on the radioactive material.

The lunchtime chaos brought an end to a lengthy police investigation involving Interpol agents around the world.

Police said they began their investigation after infiltrating a criminal organisation, which has allegedly been trying to source the highly radioactive Caesium-137.

Sources said the amount recovered, although small, could have been used in building a dirty bomb. According to the Wikipedia website, a dirty bomb combines radioactive material with conventional explosives. It is used to contaminate the area around the explosion and create terror.

A policeman said the source of the Caesium-137 was unknown and investigators were going all out to locate the larger device. “We don’t know what these suspects’ intentions were and we need to find the device quickly,” he said.

Nuclear Energy Corporation of SA spokeswoman, Chantal Janneker, confirmed the material was Caesium-137, and said there had been no contamination in the area.

Hawks spokesman, Colonel Musa Zondi, said the four were arrested as they tried to sell the stolen material which was a sample of a device which was to be sold for R45 million.

Zondi said the suspects would appear in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court on charges of theft, possession of a radioactive device and violating the Health Department’s prohibition of handling this material in public.

* This article was originally published on page 1 of The Independent on Saturday

The Pretoria News reported Saturday that police had recovered a limited amount of cesium 137, which has been identified as possible dirty bomb material (see GSN, July 6). The newspaper indicated, though, that the device that once housed the material had not been found.

“At this stage we don’t know where it comes from or where the remainder of the device is, which is of grave concern to us, especially as cesium 137 can be used in dirty bombs,” a police officer said. “We don’t know what these suspects’ intentions were and we need to find the device quickly.”

GSN reported that Friday’s operation was the result of an extended investigation that included Interpol officers from various countries and targeted a criminal group that had spent months trying to sell the radioactive material, police said. It ended at a gas station, with the suspects unsuccessfully trying to flee under semiautomatic fire from the Hawks.

The Right Perspective said in its report officers are still looking for a much larger device the suspects are believed to have.

The Digital Journal reported that Caesium-137 is radioactive isotope (radioisotope) of Caesium and is toxic in even small amounts. It is soluble in water and can be difficult to detect. It is used in small amounts for radiation testing and for some medical applications.
The isotope would make an effective component of a so-called “dirty bomb,” a device which is made up of a normal explosive like TNT and a radioactive isotope. When the bomb explodes, the area it affects becomes contaminated and people coming into contact with surfaces or water containing the radioisotope could become seriously ill or even die.
Caesium-137 was released into the atmosphere during the Chernobyl nuclear power plant meltdown and was one of the three most toxic radioisotopes in the disaster. Dirty bombs are used primarily to created terror in populations, as the explosion itself is no worse than that produced by regular explosives, but the fear of radiation sickness could cause panic.

A policeman who was not named said:  “We don’t know what these suspects’ intentions were and we need to find the device quickly” according to the Digital Journal.

The suspects will appear in the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court to face charges of theft, possession of a radioactive device and violation of health regulations pertaining to nuclear material.

The Global Security Network reports that police said the incident was not World Cup related despite earlier reports that Iraq claimed its security forces had detained an al-Qaeda militant suspected of planning to detonate a “dirty bomb” at a soccer stadium.

While it was not immediately clear where the device involved in Friday’s sting had come from, a significant amount of nuclear medicine manufacturing for treatment of certain cancers is manufactured at NECSA’s Pelindaba site near the Hartbeespoortdam outside Pretoria.

In 2007 a daring breach in security occurred at Pelindaba as two separate gangs of armed men broke into NECSA’s operations room during which an official was shot. NECSA passed this incident off as “crime-related” at the time and no further information was ever made available. There has been little fuss in South Africa over the security breach at Pelindaba but international media and  nuclear watchdog organisations remain severely disturbed believing that a significant amount of Highly Enriched Uranium at Pelindaba was a likely target for the break-ins.


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