Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has said that it is optimistic that it will be successful in obtaining federal funding to develop a pebble bed modular reactor (PBMR). According to professor Andrew Kadak, Exelon’s decision to withdraw its 12.5% stake from the Eskom’s PBMR development project in South Africa proves that “the private industry model does not work”, and it demonstrates the pressing need for government backing if an advanced nuclear reactor is to be fully developed.

Kadak wants the US Department of Energy (DoE) to oversee the construction and startup of a PBMR demonstration unit under the department’s “operations authorisation” process. Using this approach would bypass NRC’s public hearing process, Kadak said.

His hope is to build a demonstration plant that would one day be licensed for commercial use. He would like to attract three utilities to join the university project. If the plant made it to commercialisation, the project backers would sell power to the grid and repay the government for the borrowed money. “If the plant works, everyone gets paid,” he said. “If not, it is a research facility.” Kadak said he believes a plant could be built if the government provided $400-500 million over the next 6-7 years, with about $100 million funding during the peak year. The money would come from the DoE’s Nuclear Power 2010 initiative, and he claims that operation by 2010 is feasible.