Saudi Arabia gives green light to its nuclear energy plan

Saudi Arabia this week announced that it has given the go ahead for work to being on the kingdom’s nuclear energy plan, the second in the Arab world after Abu Dhabi where nuclear power is due to start this year.

Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih told the World Future Energy Summit (WFES) in Abu Dhabi on 16 January that it includes building two reactors with combined capacity to produce 2.8GW. The sites have not been confirmed.

MEED today reported that there are two other elements to the programme. Saudi Arabia has an agreement with South Korea to develop the world’s first small nuclear power generators, each with capacity of 100MW. These can be installed in remote parts of the kingdom and do not need to be located on the coast as conventional reactors are.

The third element is the launch of uranium mining. Saudi Arabia has located commercial uranium deposits in different parts of the kingdom. It is now finalizing the details of a new mining code that promote private and foreign investment in mine development.

The kingdom is also working on the regulatory system that will govern all parts of its electricity generation system which has capacity to produce about 80GW a year at present Forecasts suggest this will have to rise to up to 125GW by 2030.

The International Water Summit (IWS) was told on 17 January that the Saudi government is working on the details of a new water and electricity law that will define the regulatory structure for both industries. It is likely to call for the authority of the kingdom’s Electricity & Cogeneration Regulatory Authority to be extended to encompass all the kingdom’s generation capacity, including power stations owned and operated by Saudi Aramco.

The majority of Saudi power generation capacity is owned by the Saudi Electricity Company (SEC), a majority government-owned company listed on the kingdom’s stock exchange. The government has previously announced that it plans to divide the SEC into smaller companies.

ECRA is also to regulate all water produced by desalination plants. Almost all are owned by the Saline Water Conversion Corporation (SWCC). The government’s announced that all SWCC desalination units are to be privatised. SWCC is expected to remain as the sole owner of the kingdom’s desalinated water distribution network, including pipelines from the Gulf coast to Riyadh.

The King Abdullah Centre for Atomic & Renewable Energy (KA Care), originally set up to procure all the kingdom’s new renewable and nuclear power plants, is to be responsible for the nuclear power safety code. It is expected to procure the small power reactors. It is unclear which agency will procure the large nuclear complexes.

The announcement of firm nuclear energy plans comes as Saudi Arabia is pressing ahead with a major renewables programme. Al-Falih told the WFES that the initial phase will call for solar, wind and geothermal and other units with a total capacity of 9.5GW. Prequalifying bids for the first are expected in the first quarter of 2017.

Al-Falih told the WFES that Saudi Arabia’s pressing ahead with a comprehensive plan to expand power generation capacity, increase energy efficiency, reduce carbon emissions and develop alternative energy as part of the National Transformation Programme. He said that the kingdom’s energy policy is also designed to promote stability in global energy markets and that leading OPEC states are complying with production cuts agreed in a compact between OPEC and non-OPEC states finalised on 10 December.