Kuwait weighs nuclear future

The GCC state has launched a feasibility study into nuclear power development with the aim of having one or two atomic plants in operation by 2020.

Exelon, which operates nuclear plants such as the Limerick station in Pennsylvania, above, will help Kuwait develop nuclear power.
Bradley C Bower / Bloomberg
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Kuwait has launched a feasibility study into nuclear power development with the aim of having one or two atomic plants in operation by 2020.

The study, undertaken by the French government's Agency France Nuclear International and the US nuclear consultant and fuel developer Lightbridge, will assess potential project sites in southern Kuwait, where water from the Gulf could be used to cool reactors.

The size of the potential power plants has not been determined but each would have a capacity of at least 1 gigawatt, the Middle East business intelligence publication MEED reported, citing Suhaila Marafi, the director of studies and research at Kuwait's ministry of electricity and water.

In September, Ahmad Bishara, the secretary general of Kuwait's national nuclear energy committee, said the emirate planned to build four nuclear reactors by 2022. "Kuwait has enough sovereign funds to take up the expenses," he said.

Lightbridge and Exelon, the US energy services company, announced yesterday they would join forces in a consulting agreement to help all six GCC nations develop nuclear power.

Seth Grae, the chief executive of Lightbridge, told Dow Jones his company had signed six-month consulting contracts with each country that could lay the groundwork for GCC co-operation on safety protocols and acquiring nuclear expertise while improving the group's international purchasing power for nuclear fuel.

The initial phase of what could become a series of consultation projects will conclude in the second quarter of next year.

"It is important [for safety] to have co-operation when the reactors are so close to each other, and partly for economies of scale," Mr Grae said.

Christopher Crane, the Exelon chief executive, said Exelon would "help GCC member states develop their nuclear energy road map and help shape their longer-term planning and implementation strategy".

This year, Exelon's consulting unit announced a joint venture with the US-based Shaw Group and Japan's Toshiba to advise Saudi Arabia on nuclear development.

So far, the only GCC country committed to building nuclear plants is the UAE, which has awarded a US$20 billion (Dh73.45bn) contract for its first four reactors to a Korean consortium and has selected a site for the project on the Gulf coast in the far west of Abu Dhabi.

The first atomic plant is scheduled to be in service in 2017 and is expected to power petrochemicals development in the emirate's Western Region and desalination projects. Kuwait hopes to replace oil and imported natural gas in power generation, as well as increase its total electricity supply.

The emirate, which routinely suffers from summer power cuts, last year became the first GCC state to import liquefied natural gas for power generation. This year it was joined by Dubai.

Currently, Kuwait meets about 75 per cent of its power demand by burning oil and the remaining 25 per cent from gas-fired plants. UAE power generation is about 30 per cent oil and 70 per cent gas, while more than half Saudi Arabia's electricity generation is oil-fuelled.

In a related development yesterday, Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister, said Paris was negotiating with the Kuwait Investment Authority over a potential sale to the sovereign wealth fund of a stake in Areva, the French state-owned nuclear group.

The French government was discussing an initial €750 million (Dh3.6bn) investment by Kuwait, which could be announced next week, the Financial Times reported on its website. Paris was likely to invest €250m.

Paris is understood to have rejected Qatar as a potential investor in Areva's long-awaited capital increase after the Gulf state requested shares in Areva's uranium mining assets as a guarantee.

In April, Kuwait and France signed a nuclear co-operation treaty that would allow Areva, the world's biggest maker of nuclear reactors, to export nuclear technology to Kuwait.