The Saudi nuclear program
Very quietly, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is planning one of the largest development projects in its history. Here I am referring to the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy. Saudi Arabia is aware that it is facing a big challenge in terms of providing enough electrical energy to meet the growing domestic demand. Estimates indicate that such demand will increase by over 30,000 megawatts by the year 2020, and so a key objective is to minimize Saudi Arabia’s reliance on oil and gas as sources of energy.
To this end, Saudi Arabia has signed a set of cooperation agreements with the US, France, Russia, South Korea, China and Argentina. The Kingdom is seeking to actively move towards its goal of establishing the first Saudi nuclear reactor – for the peaceful production of energy – by the year 2020. An official from King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy had previously stated that Saudi Arabia intends to construct 16 energy reactors by the year 2030. This increasing momentum towards the production of alternative energy coincides with skyrocketing local oil consumption rates within Saudi Arabia. Khaled al-Faleh, the CEO of Saudi Aramco, has warned: “If Saudi Arabia’s local consumption rate continues in this manner, an estimated amount of three million barrels per day would be cut from exports by 2028”.
Saudi Arabia plans to construct reactors offshore because the materials need to be kept cool, in an experiment somewhat similar to giant offshore water desalination plants. The Kingdom also intends to construct smaller mobile reactors on land. Reliable sources indicate that Saudi Arabia will choose the companies to undertake such projects in accordance with their presented bids, economies and feasibilities, rather than by taking political considerations into account.
With its political and economic weight, Saudi Arabia has put forth this ambitious program as an accomplished fact, irrespective of agreements with global energy organizations, so that it cannot be subjected to any sort of exploitation or extortion. Prince Turki al-Faisal issued a strong statement in this regard when he said the Kingdom “would not surrender its right to enrich its own uranium for energy use in the long term”. Saudi Arabia has allocated a generous budget exceeding 250 billion Riyals to fund this program, and the results will impact upon several industries including, but not limited to, production, water desalination, transport, housing and health.
To implement this extremely ambitious project, the Kingdom assigned one of its shrewdest statesmen; engineer Hashim Yamani. He is a rational, extremely accurate and hardworking man who does not seek personal gain. He has achieved great success in previous posts, yet the responsibility he shoulders this time is truly awesome. Away from the clamor often associated with such programs, Saudi Arabia is very quietly launching a major development project that will make numerous job opportunities available. Once the proper infrastructure is completed, there will be fertile ground to expand the country’s industrial and productive capacity, as well as to maximize oil export potential and minimize local consumption.
The Saudi nuclear program is an entirely peaceful project, yet it is also a very ambitious one. If this program is successful, God willing, it will actively meet the country’s dire needs. Today, energy is a key element of economic competitiveness between countries, and by taking such a step, Saudi Arabia is seeking to qualify itself by vastly minimizing its reliance on oil and gas.