Eskom Gauges Interest in Pebble-Bed Nuclear Business

(Bloomberg) --

Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd., South Africa’s indebted state power utility, is gauging interest from companies interested in buying a pebble-bed nuclear reactor business it started developing two decades ago.

Submissions must be made by the end of next month, the Johannesburg-based company said in a tender announcement Thursday. The statement’s suggestion that the utility is considering building new reactors was “unfortunately worded” and Eskom has “absolutely no intention” of constructing more of them, Chief Executive Officer Andre de Ruyter told reporters on Friday.

Eskom first mooted the pebble-bed project in 1999, when it forecast development of the technology could generate billions of rand a year from licensing to other utilities. In 2004, the utility held discussions with Areva SA and later Westinghouse Electric Co. took a stake in the Eskom unit tasked with developing it. The project was closed in 2010 and employees associated with it lost their jobs.

“PBMR remains capable of restarting within a relatively short period of time, or, alternatively its technology” could be taken over by another company, Eskom said. “Companies interested in investing in PBMR reactor technology or fuel technology, securing an equity stake in PBMR, buying PBMR technology or products or embarking on other potential relationships or transactions” should submit proposals.

The technology was initially developed in Germany and was further advanced in South Africa.

South Africa spent $980 million trying to develop the technology before abandoning the project, according to the World Information Service on Energy, or WISE. At the time of the unit’s closure, building a prototype plant would have cost $1.8 billion, it said.

China is currently trying to develop its own plant based on the technology, according to WISE.

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