Eskom and its partners have received cautious support at a public meeting on their plan to build a demonstration of the 110MWe Pebble Bed Modular Reactor in the Western Cape.

The meeting was part of a consultation process that aims to involve all interested and affected parties. The main issues discussed were: building a demonstration reactor at Koeberg, the manufacture of fuel at Pelindaba, and the transport of materials.

Eskom said that the scheme will generate annual export earnings of about $2.5 billion within five years. However some environmentalists and economists have been sceptical about Eskom’s claims, saying the potential international demand is overrated and the project is not feasible.

Eskom has been carrying out feasibility studies and an environmental impact assessment of the project since last year. Phumzile Tshelane, reactor physics group manager at the PBMR, said good progress had been made on testing the reactor’s technology. The prefeasibility study has been completed and the detailed feasibility project is due to be completed soon.

A consortium of firms has been appointed to take forward the enivronmental impact assessment for the proposed mini nuclear reactor and associated fuel manufacturing process.

Nompi Tshabalala-Dunn, a deputy project manager at Eskom, said that 87% of South Africa’s electricity was generated by coal-fired power stations. These stations would not be able to meet the country’s electricity demands beyond 2010, and new energy options had to be explored. “By 2020, we will need to produce an additional 20GW of electricity,” she said. Eskom has a 30% stake in the project, the Industrial Development Corporation has 25%, BNFL 22.5%, Exelon 12.5%. Eskom has retained 10% for a black empowerment partner.