Saudi Arabia could extend nuclear bid deadline

16 October 2023
The US has engaged Saudi Arabia for the nuclear power plant project and the normalisation of ties with Israel


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Companies planning to bid for the contract to build Saudi Arabia’s first nuclear power plant will likely get more time to prepare their proposals, according to a source close to the project.

“There is a likelihood that the Duwaiheen Nuclear Energy Company will extend the 31 October deadline,” the source said, citing that Saudi Arabia is not necessarily in a hurry to build the plant. 

The ongoing conflict in Gaza is also not likely to help advance negotiations between the countries with a key stake in the project, the source said.

Just a month ago, top Palestinian Authority and US officials were in Riyadh to try to establish a breakthrough deal to normalise relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which has never formally recognised Israel as an independent state.

A source close to the Saudi nuclear power plant project told MEED at the time: “Geopolitically, the US is considering the peaceful use of nuclear energy as part of the Saudi-Israel peace agreement.”

The Palestinians are said to be demanding hundreds of millions of dollars and more control of land in the occupied West Bank in the event of a three-way deal between Israel, Saudi Arabia and the US, the BBC reported in September.

National atomic energy project 

Notably, Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said during an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)  conference in Vienna the same month that the Gulf state “is actively working to develop peaceful uses of nuclear energy in various fields”.

According to a Saudi Press Agency report, this includes the kingdom’s National Atomic Energy Project, which encompasses establishing the first nuclear power plant in the country.

Both statements came days after Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told Fox News in an interview that the kingdom is concerned about any country getting a nuclear weapon and that if Iran successfully developed a weapon, Saudi Arabia would also have to acquire one.

The crown prince’s statement has been taken to suggest that military options remain a factor in its civilian nuclear power programme.

2.8GW nuclear project

The 2.8GW Duwaiheen nuclear power plant, to be located in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province, is expected to be procured using a traditional design-and-build model. 

MEED previously reported that the most likely bidders for the main contract are China National Nuclear Corporation, Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) and Russia’s Rosatom.

It appears that French company EDF has also been invited to submit a bid. 

Holding company

In March 2022, Saudi Arabia announced the establishment of a holding company, understood to be called the Duwaiheen Nuclear Energy Company, to develop nuclear power projects in the country.

Prince Abdullah bin Khalid bin Sultan, Saudi ambassador to Austria and permanent representative to the IAEA, was quoted as saying that the holding company will develop nuclear power plants to produce electricity, desalinate seawater and for use in thermal energy applications. 

He said the kingdom is working on a framework programme for nuclear energy in 2022-27, which includes “capacity building and collaboration with international institutes for research and development”.

This followed Prince Abdulaziz’s announcement in January 2022 that Saudi Arabia has uranium resources that it wants to exploit transparently through partnerships.

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