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Monday, February 1, 2010

SAfrica: Expert urges state to proceed with nuclear project

http://www.individual.com/story.php?story=113907808

Feb 01, 2010 (BBC Monitoring via COMTEX) --

[Report by Siseko Njobeni: "State is Urged to Go On with Nuclear Project"]


THE government should have the courage to proceed with the development of the pebble bed modular reactor technology, nuclear expert Kelvin Kemm said yesterday.

He warned the country could ill-afford to lose intellectual skills invested in developing pebble bed modular reactor technology, and the project would be vital in cutting SA's carbon emissions as international pressure mounted.

Kemm's comments follow speculation that the government could pull the plug on the experimental project after the Department of Public Enterprises said yesterday it was reviewing the project due to a lack of funds. Spokeswoman Ayanda Shezi said the department would communicate the decision of the review "in due course".

Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR), the company set up to develop and supply the reactors, has spent about R8bn since 1999. PBMR said recently said that it had less than R1bn left, enough until the end of next month.

Advocates of the project have punted it as a solution to SA cutting its carbon footprint, promising less gas emission than from existing and future coal-fired power stations. PBMR was established to develop and market small-scale, high-temperature reactors locally and internationally.

Commenting on the possibility of the government abandoning the technology, Kemm said yesterday such a move would be a mistake given the pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. "Nuclear is the only way to go for SA and the rest of Africa. There is a huge export potential for (the pebble bed modular reactor). It is an investment with a huge return. We have invested a lot in human capital in the project. We will lose all of that. I do not believe the project should be stopped.

"Even the biggest of projects must start somewhere. SA should have the courage to proceed with this project. There is too much caution. With fear, we would not have built Sasol, Richards Bay and Coega. We need courage," he said.

Earthlife Africa is among the critics of the project. Yesterday, Tristen Taylor, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg project coordinator, said: "PBMR is a waste of money and should be cancelled".

It remains unclear how canning the project would affect state plans to create a nuclear industry. The government is expected to spell out its nuclear plans soon. "The matter is before a committee of ministers and decisions, and communication thereof will be made in due course," the Department of Minerals and Energy said last week.

Energy Minister Dipuo Peters said SA could have a new nuclear power station by 2020. Public Enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan said last year the initiative could be instrumental in creating a strong nuclear industry. In 2008, Eskom [Electricity Supply Commission] abandoned plans to build a nuclear power station, citing financial constraints.

The government, power utility Eskom, the Industrial Development Corporation and US nuclear company Westinghouse are shareholders in PBMR.

Source: Business Day website, Johannesburg, in English 1 Feb 10

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