Image source: Waldo Swiegers. Bloomberg

While various options were explored to commercialise its Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) in the past, Eskom now intends to dispose of the company, providing the market with unrestricted options to pursue. 

A briefing session will be held in Pelindaba on 24 February and the deadline for submissions is 28 February.

In a statement issued on Friday (31 January), South Africa’s power utility Eskom announced that it had published a request for an Expression of Interest (EoI) in reviving all or parts of the modular reactor project.

However, the nature of the EoI is to seek investors to take stakes in PBMR Ltd, the development and deployment of the reactor design, and in TRISO fuel manufacturing.

Document EOI/ERI/2020/TGS/01 was issued on 30 January on the development, manufacturing and construction of Small Modular Reactor and supply and TRISO coated particle fuel for various reactor designs, “is intended to publicly solicit and to determine an interest from the market in the future takeover of the technology,” stated Eskom. 

As outlined in the EoI: “The company seeks to take PBMR out of care and maintenance and commercialise the business. Companies interested in investing in PBMR reactor technology or fuel technology, securing an equity stake in PBMR, buying PBMR technology or embarking on other potential relationships or transactions, are invited to submit an Expression of Interest detailing proposals”.

The EoI is therefore strictly market research to determine the nature of interest and to define the scope of the Request for Offer (RFO) /Request for Information (RFI) that would be issued as a next step in the process.

The Pebble Bed Modular Reactor SOC Ltd (PBMR®) has been in the care and maintenance since 2010. The company was re-incorporated into Eskom Enterprises SOC Ltd (EE), as sole shareholder, in April 2012.  

History of Eskom's Pebble Bed Modular Reactor

The PBMR was to have been a small-scale high-temperature reactor using graphite-coated spherical uranium oxycarbide tristructural isotropic (TRISO) fuel, with helium as the coolant, able to supply process heat as well as generating electricity.

The nature of the fuel, in particular, gives the reactor a high degree of passive safety, exploiting inherent safety characteristics depending on the physical properties of the system without the need for intervention, states the World Nuclear Association.

Based on well-proved German technology, South Africa had been working on the PBMR project since 1993, and PBMR Ltd was established in 1999 with the intention of developing and marketing the reactor.

However, in 2010 the government formally announced its decision no longer to invest in the project, which was then placed under 'care and maintenance' to protect its intellectual property and assets. PBMR Ltd was reincorporated into Eskom, its sole shareholder, in 2012.

Eskom said that, at the time the PBMR project was placed in care and maintenance, it was in the process of manufacturing the reactor pressure vessel, the core barrel assembly and reactor graphite internals for a demonstration 400MWt/165MWe plant. A smaller 200MWe model—an indirect cycle design—of the PBMR was also in the concept design phase.

Eskom has now issued a request for an Expression of Interest for the "commercialisation of Pebble Bed Modular Reactor SOC Ltd (PBMR Ltd), design, development, manufacturing and construction of small modular reactors and supply of TRISO coated particle fuel for various reactor designs."

"Given the products created and preserved, PBMR remains capable of re-starting within a relatively short period of time, or alternatively its technology being taken over by a third party in its configured state and utilised elsewhere," Eskom said in the document.

It added: "The company seeks to take PBMR out of care and maintenance and commercialise the business. Companies interested in investing in PBMR reactor technology or fuel technology, securing an equity stake in PBMR Ltd, buying PBMR technology or products or embarking on other potential relationships or transactions, are invited to submit an Expression of Interest detailing proposals."

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