Bucking a trend globally of abandoning or reversing plans for more nuclear power in reaction to the Fukushima disaster, Saudi Arabia is now hunting for a site to build its first nuclear plant.
Faced with skyrocketing energy demand at home that is already putting a serious dent in its oil exports, and even threatening future domestic supplies, the kingdom will complete the construction of its first nuclear power plant within the next nine years, a Saudi government official revealed at a nuclear conference in Dubai.
The kingdom has plans to build a total of 16 nuclear reactors over the next 20 years, spending an estimated $7 billion on each plant. The first will break ground by 2017 and take three years to build. Ibrahim Babelli, nuclear consultant at the King Abdullah Centre for Atomic and Renewable Energy said: “There are a lot of things that need to be done, but our target is 2020.”
The move is an attempt to conserve its gas and oil resources, the kingdom’s primary export. And its not just exports that need propping up with more energy.
With a growing population, domestic use is growing rapidly, for electricity and for seawater desalination, as well as for its heavily subsidized gasoline. The $112 billion investment, which includes capacity to become a regional exporter of electricity, will provide one-fifth of the Kingdom’s electricity for industrial and residential use and, critically, for desalinization of sea water, now supplied by oil.
The kingdom’s skyrocketing energy use at home is fueled by a combination of rapid growth in family size and the energy subsidies needed to dampen any possibilities of social unrest like that which toppled regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. Domestic oil consumption has long been heavily subsidized. In 2011, the Saudi government further increased its subsidies of energy supplies by $100 million for domestic use. As a result, domestic oil use is projected to grow from 3.4 million barrels of oil a day in 2009 to 8.3 million barrels a day by 2028.
Going nuclear is one solution…
Solar is another: