Nuclear Power in Saudi Arabia
• Saudi Arabia plans to construct 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 years at a cost of more than $80 billion.
• It projects 17 GWe of nuclear capacity by 2032 to provide one sixth of the power then, along with over 40 GWe of solar capacity.
In December 2006 the six member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) - Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar and Oman - announced that the Council was commissioning a study on the peaceful use of nuclear energy. France agreed to work with them on this, and Iran pledged assistance with nuclear technology.
Together they produce 416 billion kWh per year (2009), all from fossil fuels and with 5-7% annual demand growth. They have total installed capacity of about 90 GWe, with a common grid apart from Saudi Arabia. There is also a large demand for desalination, currently fuelled by oil and gas.
In February 2007 the six states agreed with the IAEA to cooperate on a feasibility study for a regional nuclear power and desalination program. Saudi Arabia was leading the investigation and thought that a program might emerge about 2009.
Saudi Arabia is the main electricity producer and consumer in the Gulf States, with 217 billion kWh production in 2009, 120 billion kWh from oil and 97 from gas. Capacity is over 30 GWe. Demand is growing 8% per year and peak demand is expected to be 60 GWe by 2020. Saudi Arabia is unique in the region in having 60 Hz grid frequency, which severely limits the potential for grid interconnections. Its population is about 26 million.
The Ministry of Water & Electricity (MOWE) is broadly responsible for power and desalination in the country.
Saudi Nuclear power plans
In August 2009 the Saudi government announced that it was considering a nuclear power program on its own, and in April 2010 a royal decree said: "The development of atomic energy is essential to meet the Kingdom's growing requirements for energy to generate electricity, produce desalinated water and reduce reliance on depleting hydrocarbon resources." The King Abdullah City for Nuclear and Renewable Energy (KA-CARE) is being set up in Riyadh to advance this agenda and to be the competent agency for treaties on nuclear energy signed by the kingdom. It is also responsible for supervising works related to nuclear energy and radioactive waste projects.
In June 2010 it appointed the Finland- and Swiss-based Poyry consultancy firm to help define "high-level strategy in the area of nuclear and renewable energy applications" with desalination. In November 2011 it appointed WorleyParsons to conduct site surveys and regional analysis to identify potential sites, to select candidate sites then compare and rank them, and to develop technical specifications for a planned tender for the next stage of the Saudi nuclear power project.
Shaw Group in partnership with Toshiba/ Westinghouse and Exelon is bidding for EPC contracts, expecting Saudi Arabia to build up to 32 nuclear units. Areva is also keenly interested in supplying nuclear technology.
In June 2011 the coordinator of scientific collaboration at KA-CARE said that it plans to construct 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 years at a cost of more than 300 billion riyals ($80 billion). The first two are planned to be on line in ten years and then two more per year to 2030. These would generate about 20% of Saudi Arabia's electricity. Smaller reactors such as Argentina’s CAREM are envisaged for desalination.
In May 2012 KA-CARE projected 17 GWe of nuclear capacity by 2032 to provide one sixth of the power then, with 16 GWe solar PV, 25 GWe solar CSP (to provide for heat storage), and 4 GWe from geothermal, wind and waste. About half the power in 2032 would still be from oil and gas, with one third coming from solar following investment in that of some $108 billion.
A National Atomic Regulatory Authority has been set up.
A nuclear cooperation agreement with France in early 2011 is likely to energetically advance French interests in the country’s plans. A mid 2011 nuclear cooperation agreement with Argentina is evidently related to smaller plants for desalination. A November 2011 agreement with South Korea calls for cooperation in nuclear R&D, including building nuclear power plants and research reactors, as well as training, safety and waste management. A January 2012 agreement with China relates to nuclear plant development and maintenance, research reactors, and the provision of fabricated nuclear fuel. KA-CARE said it was negotiating with Russia, Czech Republic, UK and the USA regarding "further cooperation".
Saudi Arabia has had a safeguards agreement in force with the IAEA since 2009, but no Additional Protocol.