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A PBMR Endorsement for the Developing World

Paul Dreissen takes a look at a Third World desperate for electricity, and says it's time for the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor (PBMR):
'The only good thing about the good old days is that they're gone."

My grandmother's wisdom came from experience. As a teenager in late 19th-century Wisconsin, she had cleared tons of rocks from fields and hauled countless buckets of water on the family farm. If she had to select just one modern technology, she said, she would choose running water. But electricity was a close second.

No wonder. Without electricity, modern life reverts to her childhood: no lights, refrigeration, heating, air-conditioning, radio, television, computers, safe running water, or mechanized equipment for homes, schools, shops, hospitals, offices and factories.

Incredibly, this is what life is still like every day for two billion people in developing countries. Viewed at night from outer space, Africa really is the Dark Continent: Only 10 percent of its 700 million people regularly have electricity. Much of poor and rural Asia and Latin America faces a similar predicament.


Abundant, reliable, affordable electricity is thus a critical priority for developing nations. Hydroelectric projects offer one solution, coal-fired power plants another. They aren't perfect ecologically, but neither are wind turbines, which require extensive acreage, kill birds, and provide inadequate amounts of intermittent, expensive electricity that cannot possibly sustain modern societies.

Now a revolutionary nuclear-energy technology is being designed and built in South Africa, with suppliers and partners in many nations, including the United States.
For our archive on the PBMR, click here.

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gunter said…
Loaded with combustible graphite, both as moderating blocks and the bulk of the fuel "pebble" impregnated with fissioning uranium, basic problems with the quality assurance and control of nuclear grade graphite this dynamic component of the PBMR have already cropped up. It's one of the many unanwered safety issues, along with the dubious "no containment" concept, that resulted in Exelon Nuclear abandoning the design certfication process before the NRC years back.
Brian Mays said…
Come on, Mr. Gunter ... This "combustible graphite" that you refer to is high-quality graphite that can be heated to "white-hot" temperatures without igniting. Furthermore, it is siting in an oxygen-free environment. This is hardly a charcoal brickette in a backyard grill, as you make it sound.

Please explain what you mean by "no containment." Offhand, I can count at least four levels of containment between the fuel/fission products and the environment.

As for Exelon, who cares? They preferred to build a light water reactor today, rather than wait for the pebble bed to be certified tomorrow. Why not? Several designs are available to choose from, and the process is forging head nicely.

The design certification process for the PBMR has not been abandoned. PBMR Pty. Limited has continued to submit pre-application information to the NRC and expects to submit a design certification application within a couple of years.

Sigh .. more disinformation from NDRS.
Gunter said…
Mr. Mays,

The German THTR accident in 1986 is a good example of the no containment feature of the PBMR. Some fuel pebbles got jammed up in the gumball delivery mechanism, overheated and cracked. The subsequent offsite radiation release was intially blamed on Chernobyl fallout but the University of Fryeburg caught the industry in the lie by identifying the radioactive signature.

The South African design that Exelon floated by NRC years back does not have a reactor containment structure so as to accomodate the passive cooling feature of the design.
GingerMary said…
Houston we have a problem...
Brian Mays said…
Radiation is a fascinating thing; it can be detected in such tiny amounts. I don't see much of a problem. Compare this tiny off-site release to the amount of radiation that has been coming out of the stacks of the coal plants in Germany and South Africa in the past 20 years since this incident (not to mention the mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, etc.). Now that's a problem.

Sure there is no pressure-retaining building over the proposed design for the PBMR, but that doesn't mean that there is not adequate containment built into the design. The pebbles can withstand extremely high temperatures (much higher than could be achieved in the reactor because of conduction to ground -- i.e., simple physics). Since there is no water, there is no possibility of a steam explosion. It is quite different from the conventional reactors found in the US today and is a very safe design.

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