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South Africa and China Combine Forces in Development of Pebble Bed Nuclear Technology

PBMR (Pty) Ltd
10 March 2005

The advancement of the next generation of nuclear reactors has received a major boost with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Chinese and South African developers of inherently safe pebble bed technology.

The MOU was signed this week between PBMR (Pty) Ltd of South Africa, who has been developing the pebble bed technology since 1993, and Beijing's Chinergy Co. Ltd, whose pebble bed concept is based on a 10MW research reactor that was started up in Beijing in December 2000. The main objective of the agreement is to pursue the potential benefits which could be realized through cooperation for the High Temperature Reactor (HTR) demonstration projects in China and South Africa, as well as for the commercialisation of these reactor systems thereafter.

Both companies intend to design, develop and construct HTR demonstration plants by 2010. Although both technologies use the same pebble fuel concept as a source of heat, there are differences between the power conversion systems. The first series of HTR plants in China will be indirect cycle, steam turbine systems, while the first series of HTR plants in South Africa will be direct cycle gas turbine systems.

PBMR and Chinergy executives today expressed enthusiasm about the agreement.

Frank Wu, CEO of Chinergy Co. Ltd, said the MOU was the result of the continual discussions between the South African and Chinese HTR project teams. "While the two projects have chosen slightly different technical approaches, we both fully believe that High Temperature Gas Cooled reactors using pebble fuel, offer the most potential for commercially meeting the future environmentally friendly needs of the global power generation energy."

Jaco Kriek, CEO of PBMR (Pty) Ltd, said having two plants completed in the same timeframe, will bring technical understanding for follow-on applications that can only enhance the future of the technology. "Chinergy's commitment to the technology and the project, along with the ongoing PBMR project, further demonstrates the potential for simple, passive, inherently safe advanced reactor technologies to bring a new option to the marketplace in the near term."

Issued by:
PBMR (Pty) Ltd Communication Department

Tom Ferreira
Tel. (27) 12-6779400
Cell: (27) 83-2646188


The Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) is a small, inherently safe nuclear power station which is being developed by the South African utility Eskom, the South African Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) and British Nuclear Fuels Ltd (BNFL) as a power source in South Africa, as well as a viable export product.

The South African project entails the building of a demonstration reactor project at Koeberg near Cape Town and a pilot fuel plant at Pelindaba near Pretoria. The current schedule is to start construction in 2007 and for the demonstration plant to be completed by 2010. The fist commercial PBMR modules will be available from 2013.

In November 2004, the South African Minister of Public Enterprises, Mr Alec Erwin, stated an aspiration to eventually produce 4000MW to 5000MW of power from pebble bed reactors in South Africa. This equates to between 20 and 30 PBMR reactors of 165MW each.

The PBMR concept is based on experience in the US and particularly Germany where prototype reactors were operated successfully between the late 1960s and 1980s.

The reactor consists of a vertical steel pressure vessel lined with graphite bricks. It uses silicon carbide coated particles of enriched uranium oxide encased in graphite to form a fuel sphere or pebble (hence the name), each containing about 15 000 uranium dioxide particles. Helium is used as the coolant and energy transfer medium.

The concept allows for additional modules to be added in accordance with demand and to be configured to the size required by the communities they serve. It can operate in isolation anywhere, provided that there is sufficient water for cooling. Dry cooling, although more expensive, is an option that would provide even more freedom of location.

In addition to his inherent safety characteristics, the PBMR has the following attractive features:

  • On-line refueling (one shutdown every six years for maintenance)

  • Competitive economics

  • Load following (increased commercial pressures)

  • It is ideally suited for desalination and hydrogen production

  • Short (24 months) lead times, reducing the risk of capacity mismatch

  • It allows for additional modules to be added

  • It requires a small tract of land (four modules will fit on a soccer field)

  • Emergency planning zone of 400m.


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