Details emerge on Saudi nuclear programme

19 January 2017

Three main programmes proposed

Saudi Arabia is planning to develop nuclear energy in the kingdom through three main programmes.

The first two of these will involve building and installing nuclear power plants, with the third targeting mining uranium resources to fuel the plants, sources close to the kingdom’s nuclear programme have told MEED.

The first part of the programme will involve building conventional nuclear power plants at various sites around the country. Minister of Energy & Mineral Resources Khalid al-Falih revealed at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi on 16 January that plans were moving ahead for the kingdom’s first major two nuclear reactors, which would produce total power of 2.8GW.

The minister said early design work was under way, but MEED understands that no site has been selected yet for the first plant.

Riyadh is also planning to develop nuclear power at several locations through SMART (System-integrated Modular Advanced Reactor) facilities, which will produce nuclear power from much smaller reactors. Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah City for Atomic & Renewable Energy (KA-Care) signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with South Korea in November last year to develop the technology in the kingdom.

According to a source at KA-Care, Saudi Arabia owns a percentage of the intellectual property (IP) rights for the technology, and is already moving ahead with plans to begin to develop the first two SMART reactors, which will have a capacity of about 100MW each, within the next four years.

The kingdom is also seeking to launch a programme to mine uranium, which will be used to produce fuel for the nuclear plants and also for other uses such as nuclear medicine. Developing the kingdom’s mining sector is a key pillar of the Saudi Vision 2030, which was launched in April 2016.

MEED understands that KA-Care will head the kingdom’s nuclear energy programme. MEED recently reported that KA-Care would be involved with the kingdom’s national renewables programme only as a monitoring agency, and would not be involved with the procurement of renewable energy projects. The organisation, however, will play a key role in driving forward the country’s nuclear power programme.

While progress is being made with plans for the country’s first conventional and SMART reactors, Riyadh has not publicly committed to a target for total nuclear power capacity. Previously, senior government officials have said the kingdom was targeting 17-19GW of nuclear power in the coming two decades.

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