Saudi Arabia invites US companies to develop its nuclear power projects

Saudi Arabia invites US companies to develop its nuclear power projects
The UAE's first nuclear power plant in Barakah is in its final stages of construction
Published: 6 December 2017 - 5:42 a.m.
By: Baset Asaba

Saudi Arabia is speeding up its move towards nuclear power and has invited US firms to take part in the development of the Kingdom’s first civilian nuclear power programme.

The Kingdom aims to diversify electric power generation by adding nuclear into its energy mix.

Reuters has reported that Westinghouse is in talks with other US-based companies to form a consortium for a multi-billion-dollar project to build two reactors and that those firms are pushing Washington to restart talks with Riyadh on a civil nuclear cooperation pact.

Energy minister, Khalid Al Falih reiterated Saudi Arabia’s commitment to restrict nuclear technology to civilian use.

"Not only are we not interested in any way to diverting nuclear technology to military use, we are very active in non-proliferation by others," he said at a joint news conference with U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

KACARE, the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, is the Saudi government agency tasked with the nuclear plans. It said last month on its website that it was in talks with Toshiba-owned Westinghouse and France's EDF.

"We hope that the two paths will converge - the commercial, technical discussions between KACARE and the American companies, while we work with our counterparts on the American side to address the regulatory and policy issues," Falih said.

Perry, who is on his first official visit to Saudi Arabia and will go on to the United Arab Emirates and Qatar this week, said it was "a bit premature" to comment on the negotiations, reported CNBC.

"We are in the early stages of it but I think we both are working from the position of getting to yes," he said.

Washington usually requires a country to sign a peaceful nuclear cooperation pact - known as a 123 agreement - that blocks steps in fuel production with potential bomb-making uses, according to CNBC.

Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest exporter of oil, is considering building 17.6 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear capacity by 2032, the equivalent of about 17 reactors, making it one of the biggest prospects for an industry struggling after the 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan.

The Kingdom wants to reduce the amount of crude it burns at home to generate electricity so it can sell more of it overseas.

Riyadh has said it wants to tap its own uranium resources for "self-sufficiency in producing nuclear fuel."

The kingdom sent a request for information to nuclear reactor suppliers in October, and plans to award the first construction contract in 2018.

Its nuclear plans have gained momentum as part of a reform plan led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to reduce the economy's dependence on oil.

Recently, Russian nuclear group, Rosatom, expressed its interest and sent its initial proposals to Saudi Arabia for its mega nuclear reactors projects in the kingdom and said it would bid once tenders are floated.

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