South African trade union Solidarity affirmed on Monday that the country’s pebble-bed modular reactor (PBMR) nuclear energy project has probably gone beyond the point of no return, despite suggestions that the government may resume funding for it in August.
“It would be a case of too little, too late,” asserted Solidarity spokesperson Jaco Kleynhans. “The majority of PBMR’s scientists have already found other work since the start of the retrenchment process in February. They found greener pastures abroad, and their departure is a sad loss for South Africa.” He reported that these “greener pastures” include Australia, Canada and the US.
The PBMR is a Generation IV high-temperature gas-cooled reactor design, capable of both generating electricity and providing process heat for industrial uses. With the PBMR programme, South Africa was a world leader in Generation IV technologies.
However, in February, the government announced a very severe cut in the funding for the programme, with the result that the PBMR Company, the predominantly State-owned entity that was developing the technology, had to announce that it would be obliged to retrench 75% of its 800 staff. But now it looks as if the company’s complement will be reduced to just 25.
“The [retrenchment] process has now almost been finalised, and although the best possible severance agreement has been negotiated for employees, the end of the PBMR is a bitter time for the employees and South Africa,” said Kleynhans. “The research conducted there thus far has placed South Africa at another level as far as nuclear power is concerned, and the extent of the loss caused by the termination of the project cannot be determined now. The future simply lies in nuclear energy, and because of South Africa’s current electricity problems it can really be regarded as one of the only solutions to the growing electricity needs and problems.”