Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks during the meeting of Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition defence ministers in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia November 26, 2017..
(photo credit: BANDAR ALGALOUD/COURTESY OF SAUDI ROYAL COURT/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)
Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is setting the foundations for the kingdom’s first nuclear “research reactor,” according to reports in Saudi media. During a visit Monday to King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, the crown prince laid “foundation stones” for a series of projects, many of which the kingdom views as “strategic” as it seeks to reform its economy and society in the 21st century. These include renewable and atomic energy, according to the Al-Arabiya television channel. They will also involve desalination, genetic medicine and aircraft manufacturing.
The “low-energy nuclear research reactor,” was one of many mega-projects Saudi Arabia appears to be embarking on. It’s not the first time that the kingdom has discussed the need for nuclear reactors and nuclear power. In 2011, Saudi Arabia said it wanted to build 16 nuclear reactors over 20 years. The country also founded the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE) in 2010.
In October, the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority and KACARE signed a Memorandum of Understanding to cooperate on atomic and renewable energy investments.
KACARE president Dr. Khalid bin Saleh Al-Sultan, who had signed the MoU, was also key to the South Korean meetings. According to the reports, he conveyed a “strong desire” for the Koreans to bid for a 2.8 gigawatt nuclear plant project. The South Koreans also discussed an “advanced pressurized water nuclear reactor with a capacity of 1,400 megawatts, designed with local technology.”
A third report from Middle East Utilities also says that the International Atomic Energy Agency visited the KACARE headquarters this year. The IAEA said in July that the kingdom was seeking vendors for two nuclear power reactors. The report said that it was “well placed to finalize its plans for construction of its first nuclear power plant.” Saudi Arabia was making significant progress in establishing the infrastructure and other frameworks. Proposals for the reactors have been solicited from the Koreans as well as from China, Russia and Japan.
The news about the Crown Prince’s visit appears linked to shoring up his image after the difficulties Saudi Arabia faced in October over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi
in its Istanbul consulate.
Shifting focus to the country’s economic strategy is important. This also comes on the heels of a major investment conference last month and Saudi Arabia’s “Vision 2030” that seeks to diversify the economy. Part of that diversification will involve laying the groundwork for a bunch of mega projects and local industry.
Nuclear research is one step on this path. But it will take a decade to build a nuclear power plant, even after the deals are signed.
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