The kingdom holds large uranium reserves, estimated by experts to total from 5 to 7 % of those throughout the world. And in conditions of a global transition away from fossil fuels, nuclear power may offer the ideal variant for diversifying the economy.
The kingdom has repeatedly declared that it is ready to embark on a nuclear programme with a full nuclear cycle – mining uranium, enrichment, using uranium in reactors and securing technology and building nuclear power stations.
Saudi Arabia announced in 2018 it was proceeding with a pre-qualifying selection for building two power stations, with a total capacity of 3 GW, with both to be located on the Gulf coast. Successful bids in the selection process included Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear power authority, U.S. firm Westinghouse Electric, China National Nuclear, Kepco from South Korea and France’s Électricité de France (EDF). Contracts for planning and construction are to be concluded by the end of 2022.
But the Saudis have yet to announce a final tender for building the stations.
“We are proceeding with nuclear power cautiously. This is something new,” Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said in September. “I often describe Saudi Arabia and Saudi Aramco (the public oil and gas company) as being like a large aircraft carrier. If you are going ahead with dispersal, you need plenty of effort. But once you get going, you keep going.”
The kingdom returned to the subject of building nuclear power stations in December. During a visit to Riyadh by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, both sides noted that Russia and Saudi Arabia believe cooperation is beneficial not only in the oil sector, but also in nuclear power.
“Prospects are good for the development of relations in nuclear power,” the Russian government press service said at the conclusion of the talks between Novak and Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman. Authorities in Riyadh said Rosatom was likely to go into the third qualifying round of choosing a builder for the power stations.