Western Cape planning SA’s first mini nuclear reactor

The Western Cape in South Africa is on the cusp of a groundbreaking development with the potential arrival of the nation’s first mini nuclear reactor, slated for as early as 2026, as reported by Rapport.

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The exclusive information about this ambitious project stems from the efforts of South African venture capitalist André Pienaar and his firm, C5 Capital. Pienaar is leading a consortium focused on raising a substantial R9 billion in private investments to bring the pebble-bed modular reactor (PBMR) to fruition.

This mini nuclear reactor, designed for deployment in the Western Cape, comprises four individual units, each with the capacity to generate 80MW of power. When combined, they will deliver an impressive total output of 320MW. This initial project is expected to be the first of several similar reactors within a comprehensive 1,800MW network, which is part of a long-term vision.

André Pienaar anticipates that the cost per reactor may decrease to a range of R4.5 billion to R5.5 billion as additional units are constructed. The consortium is currently in the process of conducting a feasibility study for the project. Following this, it plans to engage in formal discussions with Eskom, South Africa’s electricity public utility, to outline its vision.

The chosen construction site for the reactor aligns with the Koeberg nuclear power station, primarily due to its prior approval for the construction of a PBMR. Another approved site is located near Hartbeespoort at Pelindaba.

The consortium’s goal is to secure a license from the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa by early 2024 and bring the plant into operation within the next three years.

It remains uncertain whether C5 Capital’s project involves Afriforum, a civil rights organization that had previously indicated discussions with André Pienaar were part of its endeavours to establish its private power company.

C5 Capital, a significant investor in the US small reactor company X-Energy, is actively contributing to the development of the Western Cape project.

The specifications for the Western Cape plant align with the first-ever commercial-scale advanced nuclear reactor constructed by X-Energy as part of the US Department of Energy’s Advanced Reactor Demonstration Program, supported with a budget of $2.5 billion (equivalent to R45.53 billion).

Mini nuclear reactor technology has been in development for several decades and is undergoing research and planning by multiple companies in the United States. In January 2023, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) certified the country’s inaugural nuclear small modular reactor design, a 50MW advanced light-water concept created by NuScale Power.