South Africa has approved $81 million of funding for key contracts for the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) project which, said minister of public enterprises Alec Erwin, the country hopes will result in the eventual building of up to 30 165 MWe units to produce up to 5000 MWe. Finance minister Trevor Manuel announced the investment plan as part of a mid-term budget statement.

According to Tom Ferreira, spokesman for PBMR Ltd, the long-awaited approval by the South African cabinet would “enable us to activate a portion” of the contracts needed to further develop plant systems, notably with Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy industries for turbine machinery and for construction of a helium test facility planned by South African engineering company IST. PBMR Ltd continues to seek new investment partners.

The PBMR project involves the building of a demonstration reactor at Koeberg near Cape Town and a pilot fuel plant at Pelindaba near Pretoria. Construction is planned for 2007, with completion of the demonstration plant by 2010. If the demonstration is a success the first commercial PBMR modules will be available from 2013. PMBR Ltd has announced that it plans to submit to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) an application for design certification in 2007 and called for restarting pre-application discussions next year.

Eskom, which will host the PBMR demonstration module, is still awaiting the final decision on the environmental impact assessment (EIA) by South Africa’s Ministry of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. The Department of Environmental Affairs issued a positive Record of Decision on the EIA in June 2003 after concluding that the project was, with some conditions, acceptable environmentally. The minister is currently reviewing appeals which were subsequently lodged.