Cape Town may lose PBMR

30 July 2001

Plans to build the 110MWe pebble bed modular reactor (PBMR) near Koeberg have been delayed following the findings in Eskom’s feasibility study. The “scoping report” found that fuel for the plant would have to be transported by road from Pelindaba in the North West Province to the Western Cape.

The Eskom-led consortium planning the 540 million Rand ($67 million) high-temperature helium-cooled reactor module had proposed construction of a fuel manufacture plant at Pelindaba, site of the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (Nesca). During the first step in the environmental impact assessment, an independent panel commissioned by the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism questioned whether Eskom had given enough consideration to alternative sites, mainly because of the fuel transport. The panel requested a scoping study on the Pelindaba site, diverting the efforts of consultants working on the Koeberg study.

David de Waal of the independent panel said: “The consideration of Pelindaba as an alternative site for the project will cover the same criteria as that used for the Koeberg site. This will allow the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism to make an informed decision as to whether the Pelindaba site becomes part of the next phase of the environmental impact assessment or not.” Eskom’s environmental director, Tony Stott, pointed out that the site does not belong to Eskom. He also raised concerns about the capacity of the electricity grid around Nesca’s site, whether the water supply would be adequate and whether cooling towers would be needed. In contrast, Koeberg – the site of two 965MWe PWRs – has a developed grid and, being on the coast, has a good supply of water and cooling towers are not required. He added that the new study would not cause a big delay to the project.

The PBMR consortium hopes to submit all the documentation to the government in time for a decision on whether the project is to go ahead by March 2002. Construction – for which Cabinet approval is required if it is to go ahead – is planned to commence in 2003, and is estimated to take less than three years.

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