R9bn wasted on nuke plan

THE government has finally admitted that the R9 billion it spent on building a new nuclear reactor was a waste of public funds.

Public Enterprises Minister Barbara Hogan announced in Parliament yesterday that the government was finally shutting down the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR).

"The government has had to make a decision to no longer invest in this project" she said.

The PBMR was supposed to be a new type of nuclear reactor using graphite pebbles at very high temperatures to generate energy. But it never got off the ground. No country in the world had ever successfully developed PBMR technology.

Hogan said yesterday that the PBMR had not been able to attract a private sector investor and the government could not afford to spend the R30billion needed to develop it to a point where it could actually produce nuclear energy.

"The project has been continually missing deadlines. Should South Africa embark on a nuclear build in future it will not be using pebble bed technology" Hogan said.

Hogan's move to shut down the PBMR is an about-turn from the actions of the Thabo Mbeki administration.

Just two years ago, when Alec Erwin was minister of public enterprises, he decided to invest a further R24billion in the PBMR, according to a "Strictly Confidential" document leaked to Sowetan two years ago.

There have been rumours for months now that the PBMR would be closed, but Hogan's statement was the first official announcement from the government.

Earthlife Africa's coordinator Tristen Taylor welcomed the death of the PBMR but said he was concerned about reports that PBMR board members were being paid R2million retrenchment packages.

"The DPE, Eskom and PBMR Company must put their books out in the public domain for examination.

"A full and transparent examination is needed of what happened at the PBMR Company, who benefited from it, and how billions were spent" Taylor said.

ID MP Lance Greyling said he had been objecting to the PBMR for six years. The ID called for a forensic audit.