It was a research project that swelled to a corporate behemoth before deflating and landing on the pile of SA’s expensive and unsuccessful megaprojects. But the pebble bed modular reactor (PBMR) is making a comeback, with at least R15m spent so far. Experts are sceptical, however, about whether it is worth the time, effort and money. "In the early 2000s the PBMR made enormous commercial sense," says Eskom chief nuclear officer Dave Nicholls, who is responsible for dusting the cobwebs off SA’s PBMR design. Nicholls, who was involved in the project’s first incarnation in the 1990s, picked up the PBMR baton again in March last year at the behest of former Eskom CEO Brian Molefe. Between 1999 and 2009, R9.244bn was invested in the project, of which R7.4bn had effectively been paid for by SA taxpayers, then minister of public enterprises Barbara Hogan said when she mothballed the project. The remaining money — about 20% of the total investment — came from Eskom (9%), US nuclear company W...

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