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Monday, February 8, 2010

North African country attracted by SA nuclear reactor technology


By: Keith Campbell
8th February 2010

Updated 1 hour 28 minutes ago The Algerian Atomic Energy Commission (Comena is its acronym in French) has expressed interest in South Africa’s pebble-bed modular reactor (PBMR) technology.

The PBMR is a fourth-generation high-temperature gas-cooled reactor technology, named after the spherical shape of its fuel elements, that is being developed by South Africa’s PBMR Company.

“We plan to build 1 000 MW(electrical) of nuclear capacity by 2022 and 2 400 MW(e) by 2027,” said Comena chairperson Dr Mohammed Derdour on a visit to the PBMR Company. “Since this power is needed for both electricity generation and desalination, the pebble-bed technology seems to be an extremely attractive option.”

Although the country, which is the second-largest in Africa, is a major oil and gas producer, it wants to diversify its energy base and economy away from hydrocarbons. Currently, oil and gas contribute 30% of Algeria’s gross domestic product and account for 98% of its export earnings.

Algeria is a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty but does not yet operate any nuclear power plants. “Algeria has atomic energy agreements with Argentina, China, France and the US,” he reported. “We also have two research reactors, which were built by Argentina and China respectively.”

Comena is interested in constructing nuclear plants, about the size of a PBMR, near villages in more remote areas, which would be used for both power generation and desalination. Desalination would be relevant for both coastal villages and inland villages where the ground water resources are saline.

South Africa and Algeria signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in 2003 on cooperation in nuclear and radiation sciences.

“We believe the PBMR technology is ideal for a country such as Algeria with its need for clean water,” affirmed PBMR Company CEO Jaco Kriek. “We would very much welcome Comena’s involvement in the PBMR Company.”

The future of the predominantly State-owned PBMR Company has lately been in doubt, with the Solidarity trade union recently claiming that the South African government would not be providing any further funding for the project and that the company would run out of money in April.

The PBMR Company denied that the government had yet taken any decision, saying that its future and that of high-temperature reactor technology development in South Africa was being reviewed by government, in cooperation with national State-owned electricity utility Eskom and the South African Nuclear Energy Corporation (better known as Necsa and also State-owned).

Last Thursday, the PBMR Company announced that it had signed an MoU with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan concerning the exploration of cooperation regarding the construction of the first PBMR for a customer, whether in South Africa or abroad.

Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter


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