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Saudi nuclear power plan: Here’s what you need to know

Saudi state media announced one day ago that the kingdom’s cabinet has approved the national policy of the country’s atomic energy programme, part of an ambitious plan to diversify its energy supply. This announcement comes ahead of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s US visit, which is expected to further nuclear cooperation talks between the Kingdom and the United States.

The plan to develop nuclear energy in the country goes back nearly a decade, when the Saudi government announced that it was considering such a programme back in 2009 and established the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KA-CARE) to further this agenda.

In 2011, it was announced that KA-CARE was planning to construct no less than 16 nuclear reactors over the next 20 to 25 years at a cost of more than SAR300 billion ($80bn), plans which have now crystallised, as the Kingdom is expected to award contracts soon.

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The need

The requirement for such a strategy lies in the fact that the population of the Kingdom has grown from four million in 1960 to more than 31m in 2016. KSA is also the Gulf’s main electricity producer and consumer, according to the World Nuclear Association.

“Saudi Arabia consumes more than one-quarter of its oil production and, while energy demand is projected to increase substantially, oil production is not, and, by 2030, a large proportion will be consumed domestically, much of it for electricity generation,” the Association notes.

In 2015, Dr Hashim Abdullah Yamani, the President of KA-CARE, noted: “The Kingdom is relentlessly working to develop its own resources of alternative energy, to name but few, atomic energy, wind energy, solar energy and geothermal energy. The overall objective of the Kingdom is to diversify its investment basket in energy, while our domestic demand for energy is on the increase.”

“The annual increase in the domestic demand for energy ranges now between 6-8%.” He continued. “Forecasts indicate that the Kingdom will have to increase its generated power by 80 gega-watts (GW) by 2040. With such an increase in the local demand for energy…it is of paramount importance for the Kingdom to utilise, in a safe, sustainable and clean manner, the technology of atomic and renewable energy.”

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International cooperation

Towards the end of 2017, business intelligence platform MEED reported that KA-CARE had received RFIs (requests for information) from several of the world’s biggest nuclear power providers, such as Westinghouse from the US, Rosatom from Russia and EDF from France.

In January, Bloomberg reported that the Kingdom was planning to award contracts for the construction of the first of its nuclear plants by the end of 2018.

The Kingdom has also invited US firms to participate in the programme and, in February 2018, Saudi foreign minister Adel Al-Jubeir told CNBC: “We are looking at the issue of the viability of building nuclear reactors in order to produce energy so that we can save the oil and export it in order to generate revenue.”

He added: “e are talking to… roughly ten countries or so around the world and we have not made a decision yet with regards to which path we will take and which country we will be focusing on more.”

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In the latest update, Bloomberg reported last week that the Kingdom was looking to enlist Washington lobbyists to advise it about nuclear energy agreements with the US.

Meanwhile, according to MEED, Saudi Arabia plans to develop nuclear energy through three programmes: the first two involve the construction and installation of nuclear power plants, while the third involves mining uranium to power the plants. Through these measures, Saudi government officials have previously noted that they plan to add up to approximately 19GW of nuclear power in the next 20 years.

This article was contributed by:By Karthik Subramanian