Saudi Arabia may turn to uranium enrichment

KSA would aim for comprehensive nuclear programme, says consultant.

Will Saudi Arabia turn to fuel enrichment if it adopts a nuclear programme?
Will Saudi Arabia turn to fuel enrichment if it adopts a nuclear programme?

Saudi Arabia may mine and enrich uranium to fuel power plants if it embarks on a civilian nuclear energy programme, a consultant preparing a draft nuclear strategy for the kingdom has told Reuters on Wednesday.

The KSA would want to play a role in as many of the stages of generating nuclear power as possible eventually, said David Cox, president for energy at the UK branch of Finnish management consultancy Poyry.

"Enrichment could happen there and the same with mining uranium...," said Cox. "But outsourcing will happen initially."

Earlier this month, Saudi's King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy appointed Poyry to help prepare a draft of the national vision and high level strategy in the area of nuclear and renewable energy.

Poyry will evaluate the economic and technical feasibility of its involvement in all stages of the nuclear power generation cycle, Cox said, adding that the study would be ready within “a couple of months.”
Saudi neighbour the UAE became the first country in the Gulf Arab region to embark upon a nuclear power generation programme last year.

But the UAE decided from an early stage to import fuel for the plants, as it sought to reassure the international community it had no military intentions with its programme. The UAE programme has the backing of the US, which signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with the Emirates, and US firms bid for contracts to build its nuclear reactors.

In spite of its abundant oil reserves, the kingdom is struggling to keep up with the rapidly increasing energy demand. Saudi Arabia saw power demand grow by more than 8 percent last year. Total demand was expected to grow to more than 60,000MW by 2020 from around 40,000 MW current capacity.

Without reducing the rate of energy consumption growth, the kingdom could see oil available for export drop some 3 million barrels per day (bpd) to less than 7 million bpd in 2028, Khalid al Falih, the chief executive of state oil firm Saudi Aramco, said earlier this year.

Middle East and North Africa countries including Saudi Arabia have potential for a large number of uranium deposits, according to recent research by the Jackson School of Geosciences University of Texas.

Any programme the kingdom embarks upon would take as much as 20 years to complete, said Poyry, and would be comparable in size to the UAE’s US$40 billion programme.

Saudi Arabia and the United States signed a nuclear cooperation deal in 2008. France said in 2009 it was close to finalising a civilian nuclear agreement. The kingdom has also talked to Russia about nuclear cooperation.

The news comes after the United Nations recently slapped a fourth round of sanctions on Saudi regional rival Iran for refusing to halt enrichment, which with further refinement can yield materials for weapons.


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