World Nuclear News - International News Services
By Paul Cochrane, in Beirut
Saudi Arabia’s failure to secure a wide-ranging atomic energy treaty with the USA, continues to push the oil-rich country into the arms of other nuclear suiters, experts on the kingdom have argued. The Saudi's plan is to invest USD112 billion over the next 20 years to build 16 nuclear power plants (NPPs) to offset rising domestic energy demand and retain its position as a leading hydrocarbons exporter.
A memorandum of understanding on nuclear energy was signed with the US in 2008, but the two countries have yet to sign Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act, essentially a prerequisite for nuclear cooperation between the US and other nations.
“(The lack of a 123 Agreement) could affect their plans, but Saudi Arabia could go for a European or Asian deal. However there is scope for American technology in many of these technology solutions and I'm not sure how far (French nuclear power company) Areva could go it alone,” said Samuel Ciszuk, senior Middle East and North Africa energy analyst at IHS Energy.
According to an industry source in the US, preliminary talks between the Saudi and US governments to discuss the 123 Agreement were slated to take place, “but even those preliminary talks didn’t happen and, as best we know, nothing further is scheduled at this time.”
Meanwhile, in February, Saudi Arabia signed a bilateral cooperation treaty with France to develop nuclear energy, including electricity production and water desalinisation. This was followed in April with Riyadh announcing it would seek a nuclear cooperation agreement with China.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has been courting nuclear energy operators in Europe and Asia as well as the USA, announcing a joint initiative in mid-2010 with Japan’s Toshiba and American firms the Shaw Group and Exelon to build and operate two NPPs. Last year the kingdom also hired Finnish engineering consultancy Pöyry to study its nuclear energy options. Pöyry however declined to comment to World Nuclear News.
Saudi Arabia is looking into alternative energies, from solar to nuclear power, to wean power generation off oil, with the kingdom already using 320 million barrels of crude per year. This is to triple by 2032 when power capacity is expected to reach 121,000MW, according to Saudi Arabia’s Electricity and Co-Generation Regulatory Authority (ECRA). Some USD140.3 billion is to be spent on conventional electricity projects over the next decade, according to ECRA, to provide an extra 3,000MW of electricity generation per year. A fifth of power generation is expected to come from nuclear power and renewable energy by 2020.
Two NPPs are slated to come online over the next decade, and then two more NPPs are to be operational per year until 2030, according to a statement by Abdul Ghani bin Melaibari, coordinator of scientific collaboration at the recently established King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KA-CARE).
“Saudi Arabia is still at an early stage, and they are looking at different technologies to be introduced to them and are signing cooperation agreements with as many countries as possible to exchange and gain access to information,” said Ciszuk. “They don't seem to have settled on any technology yet.”