When the Fukushima nuclear disaster occurred in March, its impact was felt around the world. As a region with no nuclear power capacity beyond Iran, the Middle East’s immediate response was less marked than in those countries with significant installed capacity. Eight months later, the impact of the crisis on nuclear power plans in the Middle East and North Africa region is now becoming clear.

Countries that had already begun to develop nuclear power plants have largely stayed on track. The UAE remains committed to its nuclear power project. In October, the Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENC) requested further approvals from the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (FANR) to start construction work at Braka.

Jordan, another country that announced its plans early on, also looks set to deliver its nuclear project. Financial bids were opened from three bidders in August and a developer is expected to be selected by the end of 2011.

By contrast, countries that rushed to announce new plans in 2010 have been forced to reassess due to the Fukushima disaster. Kuwait has abandoned plans to develop a nuclear power plant and instead focus on research in atomic energy for medical purposes. It has disbanded Kuwait National Nuclear Energy Committee (KNNEC) and passed all nuclear research back to Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research (KISR).

Installed capacity will consequently need to be made up by other means. Peak load currently exceeds 11GW in Kuwait, while available capacity stands at about 11.3GW. The nuclear projects were to add a significant amount to the grid in the long term, which will now be made up by traditional generating capacity using up more of its hydrocarbon resources at significant cost. 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 to power utility plants in the country.

Plans for nuclear power projects in Egypt and Bahrain have also stalled due to the Arab uprisings and the nuclear disaster in Japan. Sourcing gas feedstock continues to be a problem for power generation for Egypt. Bahrain’s situation is better due to a reasonable supply and demand margin as a result of the 1,234MW Al-Dur independent water and power project (IWPP), which will soon be fully operational.

The anomaly is Saudi Arabia. As one of the last countries in the Gulf to announce substantive plans for nuclear power, Saudi Arabia could have abandoned its programme after the Fukushima disaster but it decided not to. According to sources close to King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KA-Care), the nuclear power programme is advancing at a faster pace than its parallel renewable energy plans.

The reason behind this may be the anticipated hike in power demand in the long term. By 2020, demand is expected to exceed 77.4GW from around 47GW currently and the trend is set to continue. Using its oil reserves to meet this expected demand would squander vast amounts of its hydrocarbon resources. For Saudi Arabia, the imperatives of nuclear power development and the ability to finance it remain relevant, in spite of the Fukushima disaster.