A Boer Made a Plan and That’s a Pebble Bed Nuclear Reactor Orbiting Above Us


South Africa had spent around R10bn developing the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor before abandoning the nuclear project when Jacob Zuma became President. He had a much bigger nuclear ambition cooked up with Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Now, however, Andre Pienaar, a pioneering Afrikaner venture capitalist who lives his life between Washington and London has a surprise in store. He is invested in a US company that has a contract to build what will be a new space station on the hulk of the existing International Space Station (ISS) that has been orbiting earth for the last 23 years. He is also invested in another US company racing to win a competition to build the first Small Modular Reactor in Washington State in the US. X-Energy’s product is a direct descendent of the PMBR and a clutch of the scientists working on it are South African. Or were. And whether X-Energy wins the Washington contract or not, Pienaar, whose roots in South Africa still run deep — he was instrumental in the establishment of the corruption-busting Scorpions — is going to put an X-energy PMBR onto his own space station. “Its happening,” he tells Peter Bruce in this compelling edition of Podcasts From The Edge. Pienaar is convinced that a new generation of small, even portable, nuclear reactors is a large part of the answer to the scramble for a carbon-free future. Governments around the word are curious. The British have given Rolls Royce more than £200m to develop a small nuclear reactor because, well, if you can run a submarine or an aircraft carrier on a nuclear reactor, how cool would it be to run a small town, or a large city, on one? In a few years’ time we’ll be able to see the new, expanded, ISS passing us by in the night sky. If its very bright it might be because of the pebble bed reactor inside it.