Small reactors could meet Saudi Arabia’s energy needs, report says

A concept design image for a Westinghouse small modular reactor (SMR) site is seen in an undated handout image provided to Reuters on July 21, 2016. (REUTERS file photo)
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Updated 16 December 2019

Small reactors could meet Saudi Arabia’s energy needs, report says

  • Small modular reactors are a type of nuclear fission reactor that is smaller than conventional reactors

JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia is exploring ways to produce energy to achieve sustainable development and protect the global ecosystem.

The Kingdom currently relies heavily on oil and natural gas to meet its electricity needs. According to official estimates, Saudi Arabia expects a 40 percent rise in local electricity demand between 2019 and 2030.

This expected rise in electricity use is due to the rapid growth of urban areas and the Kingdom’s plans to develop a strong manufacturing sector and expand its industrial base as envisioned in Vision 2030.

Such a scenario calls for exploration of alternative methods of electricity generation such as nuclear energy, solar and wind power.

Nuclear power provides 11 percent of the world’s electricity, with 454 nuclear reactors operating in 30 countries and 54 plants under construction — including 11 in China, seven in India, and six in Russia.

The Saudi government announced its nuclear national policy in 2018. It plans for as many as 16 nuclear plants over the next 25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion. The Kingdom plans to meet 15 percent of its growing energy needs from nuclear power by 2032.

The government has also set ambitious goals for renewable energy, such as achieving 27.3 gigawatts of solar and wind power by 2024.

Nuclear energy is not only clean but available around the clock. Renewables such as solar and wind are good energy sources but are dependent on weather conditions, which are not always stable.

The King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC) recently published a study calling for the use of small modular reactors (SMRs) in the Kingdom to achieve its Vision 2030 goals.

SMRs are a type of nuclear fission reactor that are smaller than conventional reactors. They are manufactured at a plant and brought to a site to be assembled. These reactors allow for less on-site construction, increased containment efficiency and security of nuclear materials.

“The average capacity of nuclear reactors has grown from 50 megawatts electric (MWe) in the 1950s to around 1.65 gigawatts electric (GWe) today,” according to the study.

The study said the deployment of SMRs in the Kingdom would allow it to use its oil reserves better and meet its increasing domestic energy demand. It would also enable the development of human capital through knowledge transfer and the growth of public and private sector investments through the development of the SMR value chain.

The localization of SMR technology in Saudi Arabia would also offer great economic and developmental benefits toward the realization of Saudi Vision 2030’s targets and goals.

Since the 1950s, nuclear generation technology has transformed and developed. After the three major nuclear accidents — at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima — nuclear power has become more robust, safer and more secure.

According to KAPSARC, the design of SMRs requires lower initial investment and shorter simplified design construction times compared with large modular reactors (3 years as opposed to 7-10 years), as the unit can be expanded at any time (buying one module and adding others later).

Additionally, the operation of SMRs requires less capital compared with large reactors (LRs). The paper shows that the cost of SMRs is less than that required to fund LRs, which would help to build investor confidence and allow for investment. Additionally, the safety of SMRs is greater than that of LRs.

Food for thought as Aramco’s Amin Nasser hosts Davos

Updated 42 min 43 sec ago

Food for thought as Aramco’s Amin Nasser hosts Davos

  • The theme of the reception was “the art of the possible,” aiming to highlight Aramco’s huge investment in energy technology
  • Among the foreseen events were the release of audited reserves estimates showing Aramco — officially — as the world’s biggest oil company

DAVOS: Rapidly becoming a highlight of the hectic Davos calendar is the Saudi Aramco reception and dinner, held for the past two years now at the InterContinental Hotel on the outskirts of the Alpine resort.

The egg-shaped InterConti is one of the bigger and newer establishments here, very different in style from most of the other traditional Swiss hotels. It exudes corporate power and influence and is a fitting venue for the most valuable company in history to host friends, clients and would-be partners for a few informal hours.

On Wednesday, the hotel was virtually an extension of Riyadh. In addition to the Aramco event, there was also a big presence by the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA), with its slogan “Saudi Arabia: Now Live” in prominent view in the bustling lobby.

The Aramco event — hosted of course by chief executive officer Amin Nasser — was a gathering of some of the most powerful people in the Kingdom, as well as a number of the great-and-good of the energy world and representatives of the global elite.

The Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdul Aziz bin Salman chatted amiably with guests, none the worse for wear from the door-stepping he had got from the Western press earlier in the day, which had caused a storm of disapproval on Saudi domestic media. He had a few words for everyone.

Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of the Saudi Public Investment Fund and chairman of Armco, was in attendance too, enjoying the refreshments and canapes of the gathering.

The theme of the reception — held in the InterConti’s cavernous basement function hall — was “the art of the possible,” aiming to highlight Aramco’s huge investment in energy technology, its big global research and development commitment, and its awareness of climate-change issues. “We are more than just a petrol pump,” was the message.

One neat synergy between traditional Saudi life and modern technology was the story of Mohamed Amanullah, leader of Aramco’s Advanced Research Center, who devised a way of using discarded date seeds — suitably processed — as a filter in the oil-drilling process. “It shows heritage and sustainability in one place,” an Aramco aide explained.

The highlight of the soiree was an address from Nasser, who took the stage to thank guests for making the trek to the InterConti. He noted that Davos 2020 had the highest number ever of Saudi delegates.

“Last year was an exceptional year for Aramco, in a variety of areas; some of them planned, some not predicted,” he told the audience.

Among the foreseen events were the release of audited reserves estimates showing Aramco — officially — as the world’s biggest oil company; the record-breaking bond issue in spring; the finding by scientific experts that the Kingdom had the cleanest crude of any of the oil majors; and, of course, the biggest initial public offering in history last month and market recognition of the fact Aramco is the biggest listed company in the world.

Some unplanned events were also mentioned, notably the attacks on Aramco facilities last September that briefly halted most of the Kingdom’s oil industry, but which was overcome with rapid efficiency. The oil price spike was short lived.

“Our job is to fulfill the global need for affordable energy,” Nasser said, highlighting Aramco’s “responsibility and moral obligation” to help alleviate energy poverty in poorer countries, especially in sub-Saharan Africa.

Nasser finished with a pledge that Aramco’s hi-tech capabilities will be enhanced and expanded for the benefit of the world. “I am confident that we can use technology to remove carbon dioxide emissions and methane from the atmosphere,” he said.

That is a mission worthy of the biggest energy company on the planet and provided food for thought for the rest of the Davos evening.