Saudi Arabia to seek bids for its first nuclear reactor

Saudi Arabia plans to call for preliminary bids for its first nuclear reactor next year, kicking off the region’s biggest atomic energy programme.

Saudi Arabia plans to add 18 gigawatts of nuclear power in over a decade. Petr Josek / Reuters
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Saudi Arabia plans to call for preliminary bids for its first nuclear reactor next year, kicking off the region's biggest atomic energy programme.

The request for proposals could be for more than one reactor, the first of which would start construction in 2017 for completion in 2022, said Muhammad Garwan, the atomic energy team leader of the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (Ka-Care), the government’s energy diversification planner. Over a decade-long construction period, Saudi plans to add 18 gigawatts of nuclear power, which combined with 54GW of renewable energy, would represent half of the country’s soaring power demand.

"It is to transform Saudi Arabia from a country that depends solely on fossil fuels into a country that actually has an energy mix of atomic and renewable energy," Mr Garwan said yesterday at a nuclear energy conference in Abu Dhabi.

“Number one, it has to be economically viable in the long term. Secondly, it has to make available jobs for the Saudi youth.”

The Saudi nuclear programme, triple the size of Abu Dhabi’s announced plans, is a lifeline for a nuclear industry that is still hampered by post-Fukushima public distrust and the global economic downturn.

Thanks to nuclear cooperation agreements, Saudi Arabia is able to purchase technology and equipment from France, China, South Korea and Argentina.

Treaties with Russia, Britain, Hungary, Finland and the United States are under discussion.

US vendors are concerned that if Saudi Arabia does not ink a “123 agreement” with the US in time for the tender, they could miss out on the world’s biggest raft of nuclear contracts since China.

Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act requires a specific agreement for significant transfers of nuclear material, equipment, or components from the US to another nation.

Ka-Care is in the process of setting up the Saudi Arabian Regulatory Atomic Authority (Saraa). The nuclear regulator will partner with other foreign regulators.

Saara will be spun off as an independent entity once it hires enough staff.

Ka-Care also plans to set up a nuclear holding company by the middle of next year, which could sign joint-venture agreements with foreign partners to operate the nuclear sites.

It has completed two rounds of site selection, and it has ruled out areas with geological activities or petrochemical hubs.

Mr Garwan said the final round of site selection was due to begin soon.