Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia to unveil plans for first nuclear power station

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Saudi Arabia could begin the official tender process for its first civil nuclear reactors as early as October, according to industry figures, making it the second Arab nation to turn to nuclear power.

The government is expected to reach out to potential bidders in France, China, South Korea, Russia and Japan.

“Competition will be fierce,” an industry source told Reuters. Following recent feasibility studies, the source added, the Kingdom was likely to send Requests for Information to vendors next month.

Saudi Arabia intends to begin the first reactor casing pouring in 2018 on two power plants with a capacity up to 2.8GW. Further details on the ambitious plans could be unveiled at the forthcoming International Atomic Energy Agency conference in Vienna.

The conservative Gulf Kingdom, which has a population of 32 million, is thought to hold 18 per cent of the world’s total crude oil reserves, and has long been the world’s top exporter of oil. However, with the beginnings of an international shift away from fossil fuels, the country may benefit from diversifying its own electricity sector.

The economic reform programme Vision 2030, launched in 2016, aims to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, and develop other sectors.

The King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy – the public agency overseeing the plans – states that it is considering constructing 17.6GW of nuclear capacity (the equivalent of 17 standard reactors) by 2032. This could render Saudi Arabia one of the largest nuclear clients in the world, following India and South Africa.

The agency has reportedly discussed the feasibility of working with Chinese vendors and Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned nuclear company.

The only Arab country to have begun the installation of nuclear power is the United Arab Emirates. Its government announced its interest in the technology as early as 2008, and its first plant, the Barakah nuclear power plant, which is equipped with four APR-1400 reactors, is due to begin operation next year.

Following the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015, which aims to reduce global carbon emissions in order to limit average temperature rises to 2°C, governments around the world have been discussing options to reduce dependence on burning fossil fuels. The Chinese government has, for instance, invested heavily in research and development of renewables and the design of new nuclear reactors.

Meanwhile, the Japanese Atomic Energy Commission has called this week for nuclear power to remain a key constituent of the country’s energy supply. The commission reported that nuclear power accounted for at least 20 per cent of its energy industry, and the country’s economy has taken a knock from expensive fossil fuel imports and slow reactor restarts.

Following the Fukushima disaster of 2011, the country shut down all of its nuclear reactors, and has since restarted five of them, accounting for less than two per cent of its energy supply.

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