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.

Indonesia hails ‘historic’ $22.9bn mega-investment deal with UAE

Updated 17 January 2020

Indonesia hails ‘historic’ $22.9bn mega-investment deal with UAE

  • Leaders agree initial $6.8bn projects plan, including initiative to build a replica of Abu Dhabi grand mosque in Java

JAKARTA: Indonesia’s business community on Thursday welcomed the UAE’s pledge to pump tens of billions of dollars into a wide range of key sector projects.

President Joko Widodo and his entourage secured an overall $22.9 billion deal during an official two-day visit to Abu Dhabi earlier this week covering the fields of energy, logistics, port construction, mining, and agriculture.

It was also revealed that the delegation brokered a UAE commitment to assist in establishing an Indonesian sovereign wealth fund.

At a bilateral meeting, the Indonesian leader and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan witnessed the signing of 11 business accords between the two countries. Indonesia’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Retno Marsudi said the UAE had committed to investing $6.8 billion out of the total agreed spending package into the initiatives.

Luhut Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s chief minister for maritime affairs and investment, described the UAE’s pledges as possibly being “the biggest deals in Indonesia’s history, secured with the UAE within only six months,” referring to the crown prince’s visit to Indonesia last July.

While most lauded the deal, some Indonesian business leaders remained cautious over the long-term prospects for the projects.

Fachry Thaib, head of the Middle East Committee and OIC at the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce, said the schemes could trigger a wide-ranging domino effect through job creation and other business ventures.

“The government needs to have a strong lobbying team that can follow up these deals and push them into investment realizations. We have had such commitments from other Gulf countries, but there was no further lobbying and the pledges were hardly realized,” he told Arab News.

Zaini Alawi, a businessman who exports and imports between Indonesia and the Middle East, said: “It would set a good precedent to attract other Gulf countries to invest here if Indonesia shows it could aptly manage these investment deals.”

Director for Middle East affairs at Indonesia’s Foreign Ministry, Achmad Rizal Purnama, told Arab News that the $6.8 billion commitment from the UAE was only the first phase of a long-term program.

Widodo and the crown prince also witnessed the signing of five government cooperation agreements in health, agriculture, Islamic affairs, and counterterrorism.

Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs Fachrul Razi said one of the main aspects of the cooperation agreement would be the promotion of religious moderation and raising awareness of the dangers of extremism.


The UAE has pledged to assist in establishing an Indonesian sovereign wealth fund.

Noting that the UAE had pledged to fund the construction of a replica of the Abu Dhabi grand mosque in Solo, the president’s hometown in Java, the minister pointed out that the grant was part of a commitment by the two countries to establish a mosque that welcomed all people and served a pivotal role in promoting the middle path of Islam.

Riza Widyarsa, a Middle East expert at the University of Indonesia, told Arab News that the cooperation deal could help more Indonesians to understand that not all countries in the Middle East observed conservative Islam. “They are also very active in countering religious extremism and radicalism,” he said.

In addition to the multi-billion-dollar projects, Purnama said Indonesia had also secured the UAE’s commitment to assist in establishing an Indonesian sovereign wealth fund into which the UAE, the US International Development Finance Corporation, and Japan’s SoftBank would inject funding.

And according to Pandjaitan, the UAE had pledged to be “the biggest contributor” to the fund.

The fund would be used to finance Indonesia’s ambitious infrastructure development projects and the construction of its proposed new capital in East Kalimantan, a relocation that has been estimated to cost $33 billion and of which Indonesia could only afford 19 percent.

He said all parties involved would meet in Tokyo soon to set up the structure of the fund and to finalize the plan, which the government expected to launch by mid-2020, a year after the crown prince proposed the idea to Widodo.

“This could be the first time that big capitalists work together in a single project,” Pandjaitan added.