South Africa's expenditure on the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR) nuclear technology, as well as on the State-owned enterprises pursuing its development, is set to fall materially over the next three years, the country's 2010 expenditure estimates show.
The 846-page ‘2010 Estimates of National Expenditure' book, which was released together with the National Budget on Wednesday, also indicated that government's contribution to the PBMR would end altogether in 2013.
Between 2006/7 and 2009/10, the country allocated R7,2-billion for the development of the PBMR demonstration and fuel plants, while it allocated a further R1,73-billion in 2009/10 for the programme.
However, the chapter on ‘Public Enterprises' in the expenditure documentation shows that the ‘Nuclear Sector', which is code for the PBMR, would receive only R11,4-million over the next three years.
For the upcoming fiscal period, some R3,6-million has been set aside, followed by R3,8-million for 2011/12 and R4-million for 2012/13.
Fiscal expenditure estimates for all energy and broadband enterprises falling under the aegis of the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE) would decline by 80,3% over the next three years as government's direct contributions to the PBMR, Broadband Infraco and Eskom were scaled back.
In fact, expenditure across these three categories is expected to fall from the R1,96-billion of 2009/10, to only R14,9-million in 2012/13.
What this budgetary falloff means for the future of the PBMR Company, the highly skilled individuals who work there, as well as the so-called next-generation nuclear technology itself is not immediately clear.
There are other investors in the enterprise, while the DPE still lists the overseeing of PBMR progress as one of its objectives.
By contrast, the expenditure estimates for South Africa's research and development efforts surrounding "hydrogen and energy", which is meant to position the country for the advent of the so-called "hydrogen economy", are holding steady.
The ‘Science and Technology' expenditure vote shows that the programme will receive R134-million in 2010/11, R142,8-million in 2011/12 and R148-million in 2012/13.