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Friday, February 6, 2009

PBMR nuclear firm eyes US, Canada


In the wake of Eskom's decision to abandon a plan to build a second nuclear plant.

06 February 2009 11:28

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South African nuclear technology firm PBMR hopes to tap the U.S. and Canadian markets in the wake of Eskom's decision to abandon a plan to build a second nuclear plant, a senior company official said.

Development of the company's Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) technology for power plants, scheduled for commercial use by 2014, has been hit by the global financial crisis and funding problems at South African state-owned power utility Eskom , its major shareholder.

The Industrial Development Corporation, a South African state-owned finance institution, and U.S-based Westinghouse, which is majority owned by Japan's Toshiba Corp., also have stakes.

Eskom is struggling to fund a 343 billion rand plan to build new power plants and ramp up its power capacity. Power shortages have forced it to cut supply to industry, including mining firms, and residents.

"The global financial crisis and related impact on funding ... has prompted the PBMR company to consider near-term market opportunities based on customer requirements to service both the electricity and process heat markets," Jaco Kriek, PBMR's chief executive, said late on Thursday night.

Kriek said the U.S. Department of Energy, which is funding development of new nuclear plants, companies active in Canada's oil sands development and South African petrochemical group Sasol, were among those targeted by the company.

PBMR technology could be used to produce enough heat and pressure to extract bitumen from oil sands or enough steam or hydrogen to refine coal products, he said.

The company is considered to be among the world leaders in the development of nuclear reactors that use radioactive material sealed in small pebbles.

Designers of the technology say it is safer than conventional reactors and will improve efficiency, although some environmentalists dispute it.

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