Kuwait has identified three sites as potential locations for the country’s first nuclear power plant.

According to a source at Kuwait National Nuclear Energy Committee (KNNEC), the locations under consideration are Bubiyan Island, Failaka Island and a site on the south coast of the country.

The sites have been identified through an evaluation process using criteria from the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and recommendations from KNNEC’s technical consultants. The criteria considered essential included cooling water availability, plate boundaries and faults, seismicity, foundation conditions and proximity to population areas. Other factors were classified as aspects to avoid or suitability aspects.

Fuel consumption, 2008-09*
Heavy oil 313,184 58
Gas 138,160 25
Crude oil 54,068 10
Gas oil 36,060 7
*=Percentage of 541,472 billion BTUs. Source: Electricity & Water Ministry

KNNEC has studied the economic feasibility of the scheme under several scenarios, including using different construction costs, oil and gas feedstock prices, and nuclear generation capacity.  “These are only scenarios, the size of the nuclear power programme is still far from determined,” says the KNNEC source.

Both the site and economics studies are now complete and the results will be submitted to the cabinet.

Since its creation in March 2009, KNNEC has been conducting studies and preparing Kuwait’s national nuclear programme with the assistance of international consultants. AFNI France Nuclear and US-based Lightbridge were selected to undertake the economic and technical siting studies. 

The government is also preparing new legislation for Kuwait’s nuclear programme. It is now close to finalising a law for nuclear power in the country. Once this is passed, it will allow KNNEC to launch its first nuclear power project to the market. However, “the importance of the programme needs to be understood by public to avoid possible rejection and political debates”, according to a source at KNNEC. “The first project will be the most challenging. The second and third projects – if they happen – will be easier with economies of scale.”

According to KNNEC, details regarding how the projects will be financed are yet to be decided. The operator may take a share of the project company, which may or may not be listed on the stock exchange.

This could be a controversial move. Law 39 stipulates that any future project with a capacity greater than 500MW must be tendered as an independent (water and) power project. “[The nuclear power plant] must, by law, be done as a PPP,” says Adel Al-Roumi, director general of the country’s Partnerships Technical Bureau (PTB).

It is not clear whether the law applies to nuclear. It was meant for conventional oil and gas-fired power stations, not necessarily nuclear facilities. As a consequence, the mode of financing the nuclear projects remains uncertain.

KNNEC also intends to draw on the expertise of other countries for its nuclear programme. In a visit to the UK at the end of January, KNNEC negotiated the terms of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the UK to cooperate in the knowledge exchange.

The agreement follows similar pacts with Japan, the US, Jordan, France and Russia.  Kuwait is also in the process of negotiating agreements with South Korea, the UAE and Russia.

Kuwait is developing nuclear power because it is straining to meet domestic power demand. Demand projections suggest that installed capacity will need to grow from 11GW to 28GW by 2030.

Electricity usage is currently growing at a rate of 7 per cent a year. Kuwait is using more and more of its own crude reserves as fuel for its power and water plants. In 2010, 350,000 barrels a day (b/d) out of 2.8 million b/d – or 11-15 per cent of total production – was used power utility plants in the country.

Kuwait also wants to bolster its green energy credentials. The country emitted over 40 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2010, which is expected to rise to 70 million tonnes by 2030. As a result, “time is critical for us”, according to the KNNEC source.