How clean nuclear energy will put Saudi Arabia ahead of the climate-change curve

Special How clean nuclear energy will put Saudi Arabia ahead of the climate-change curve
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Saudi Arabia is looking to utilize its uranium reserves and embrace a technology that will deliver clean energy and help in the battle against global warming. (Shutterstock)
Special How clean nuclear energy will put Saudi Arabia ahead of the climate-change curve
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Saudi Arabia is looking to utilize its uranium reserves and embrace a technology that will deliver clean energy and help in the battle against global warming. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 31 July 2022

How clean nuclear energy will put Saudi Arabia ahead of the climate-change curve

How clean nuclear energy will put Saudi Arabia ahead of the climate-change curve
  • Planning for establishment of first nuclear power plant is part of strategy to transition to clean energy
  • Kingdom is following IAEA’s three-step “Milestones Approach” to production of nuclear power

LONDON: When a newspaper headline begins with the prefix “revealed,” most readers are sufficiently familiar with media shorthand to know that they are expected to react to the article that follows with surprise, or perhaps even concern.

But when the UK’s Guardian newspaper ran a story in 2020 headlined “Revealed: Saudi Arabia may have enough uranium ore to produce nuclear fuel,” the real surprise was that the story was getting on for 50 years old.

Saudi Arabia’s plans to develop a nuclear energy industry were not hatched overnight or in secret. The reality is that the Kingdom has been slowly, steadily and responsibly treading the complex regulatory and technical path toward the adoption of peaceful nuclear power for decades.

It is clear that having moved cautiously and prudently, the Kingdom is now ready to embrace a technology that has come of age, in an era when access to clean energy has never been more essential.

IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi. (AFP)

In February, Rafael Mariano Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the delegates at a virtual conference in Riyadh that the IAEA was working closely with Saudi Arabia to help the Kingdom develop the infrastructure for a peaceful nuclear energy program.

In March, Prince Abdullah bin Khalid bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to Austria and the Kingdom’s governor to the IAEA, announced the establishment of the Saudi Nuclear Energy Holding Company to “develop, own and operate nuclear assets through affiliate or jointly established companies to produce electricity and desalination of saltwater.”

The 2020 Guardian article appeared to refer to a survey begun in 2017 by Saudi and Chinese geologists who, working alongside colleagues from the Geological Survey of Finland, carried out a two-year exploration of sites in the Kingdom potentially rich in uranium — sites that were, incidentally, first identified 50 years ago.

As for what was “revealed” in the story, the details of the research and the findings during its first year were presented openly in a paper delivered to the International Symposium on Uranium Raw Material for the Nuclear Fuel Cycle, which was organized by the IAEA in Vienna in June 2018.

The three co-authors of the paper were all scientists from King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, or K. A. CARE for short. The organization was founded by royal decree in 2010 with “the fundamental aim of building a sustainable future for Saudi Arabia by developing a substantial alternative energy capacity fully supported by world-class local industries.”

Therefore, its creation put the Kingdom firmly ahead of the climate-change curve, with nuclear power among the clean-energy options on the table.

As acknowledged by the creation of K. A. CARE, Saudi Arabia “has a rapidly growing population that places an ever-increasing pressure on the country’s non-renewable hydrocarbon resources.”

It was concluded that “alternative, sustainable and reliable sources of energy for generating power and producing desalinated water should be introduced that will reduce consumption of the nation’s fossil fuel reserves.”

Following “extensive technical and economic analysis,” the decision was taken “to introduce atomic and renewable energy for a significant portion of Saudi Arabia’s future energy mix.”

As the Vienna paper noted in 2018, there has never been any secret about the Kingdom’s uranium stocks, nor its plans to develop self-sufficiency in nuclear fuel for any power-generating reactors the country might build in future.

Geological surveys carried out as early as 1965 suggested the possibility that, alongside the fossil fuels that have so greatly transformed Saudi Arabia since their discovery in the early 20th century, the Kingdom might also be sitting on abundant supplies of the raw nuclear material it would need to continue its economic growth and development in the post-oil era.

It is now 35 years since the Saudi Geological Survey confirmed these vast reserves of uranium, and more than a decade since K. A. CARE was founded in Riyadh to advance the Kingdom’s nuclear agenda, working in close partnership with international bodies. Now those partnerships are close to bearing fruit.

The Saudi Geological Survey confirmed that the existence of vast reserves of uranium in the Kingdom in 1987. (Supplied)

The most important of those bodies is the IAEA, the intergovernmental forum for scientific and technical co-operation in the nuclear field that was set up in 1956 to “accelerate and enlarge the contribution of atomic energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world.”

Saudi Arabia has been a member of the IAEA since 1962. In January 2013, Yukiya Amano, at the time the director general of the IAEA, visited the Kingdom to be briefed by Saudi authorities on their plans to introduce nuclear power into their national energy mix.

Since then, the Kingdom has adhered to its commitments and obligations under the IAEA’s “Milestones Approach,” a sequence of three phases beginning with the formal inclusion of nuclear power as an element in a nation’s energy strategy, and culminating in the construction, commissioning and operation of a nuclear plant.

Saudi Arabia has completed phase one, which involved a series of feasibility studies, and phase two, which included the establishment of key organizations along with legal and regulatory frameworks.

Now it has embarked on phase three, during which “activities to contract, license and construct the first nuclear power plant are undertaken,” ending in milestone three: “Ready to commission and operate the first nuclear power plant.”

A commitment to forge ahead with the development of nuclear power was enshrined in the National Energy Program launched in 2016 as part of Saudi Vision 2030’s National Transformation Program. In July the following year, the government approved the Saudi National Atomic Energy Project, and in March 2018 established the Nuclear and Radiological Regulatory Commission.

In July 2018, at the invitation of the Saudi government, a team of nuclear experts from Brazil, Spain and the UK, led by IAEA staff, carried out a 12-day review of Saudi Arabia’s preparations.

Team leader Jose Bastos, technical lead of the IAEA’s Nuclear Infrastructure Development Section, concluded: “Saudi Arabia is well placed to finalize its plans for construction of its first nuclear power plant.”

The King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy in Riyadh. (Supplied)

This Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review was a significant step and was welcomed in a statement by Khalid Al-Sultan, the president of K. A. CARE.

“The vision of Saudi Arabia 2030 considers nuclear energy as an important source to support stability and sustainable growth,” he said.

The review was “a valuable tool to pinpoint areas of improvement and ensure that the required infrastructures are in place before signing the contract for building the first nuclear power plant in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” he added.

In 2019, plans were unveiled for the foundation of the Saudi Nuclear Energy Holding Company, which was formally launched in March this year.

Behind the scenes, a vast amount of technical preparatory work has been under way. Surveys have been carried out to identify and prepare suitable sites for the first two power-generating reactors that will be built — light pressurized water reactors, which are deemed the most suitable technology for the Kingdom’s initial nuclear needs.

Meanwhile work has also begun on what is perhaps the Kingdom’s most dramatic Vision 2030-related project — its first nuclear reactor, which will be a low power research reactor designed “to support a demanding training and human resources development plan and become a tool for research and development.” The foundation stone for this facility was laid by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology in November 2018.

Just how close Saudi Arabia might be to building its first full-scale reactor became clear in April 2021, when, during an online training course organized for the Kingdom by the IAEA, 50 nuclear regulators, national guards, customs and port authority agents, and other officials from more than 20 Saudi government agencies learned more about their roles as first responders in the event of a radiological or nuclear emergency.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has been informed by Saudi authorities of the Kingdom's  plans to introduce nuclear power into their national energy mix. (Shutterstock)

A few months later, in September 2021, Saudi Arabia became the 37th country — and only the third in the region after Egypt and Israel — to join RANET, the IAEA’s Response and Assistance Network. This is a global scheme that allows members to offer and request timely assistance in the event of a nuclear accident or radiological emergency.

Another significant checkpoint was reached in May this year, when UK consultancy firm EY was appointed as “transaction adviser” for Saudi Arabia’s first large-scale nuclear power project — a two-reactor plant that is expected to have a capacity of up to 4 gigawatts, enough to power three million homes.

In keeping with the IAEA’s Milestones Approach, the Kingdom is now ready to invite bids and negotiate contracts for the construction of that plant.

For Saudi Arabia, reaching milestone three — the point at which the first plant can start to operate, pumping clean electricity into the national grid — will be the moment when the nation’s energy-consumption profile will begin to change radically.

And nuclear power can’t come on stream too soon. According to K. A. CARE, at the current rate of growth peak energy demand in Saudi Arabia is expected to exceed 120 gigawatts by 2030, which means there would be a shortfall of 60 gigawatts based on current energy provision.

Nuclear energy is also expected to play an important part in desalination. It is predicted that demand for water by 2030 will be 7 million cubic meters per day, 3 million more than current capacity.

In January, Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman told the World Economic Forum that Saudi Arabia could even use nuclear power to produce hydrogen gas, which burns cleanly but energy is required to extract it from water.

Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, Saudi Minister of Energy. (Getty Images )

By embracing nuclear power, Saudi Arabia is not only taking steps to head off its own looming energy crisis, it is also contributing to the battle against global warming.

As Sama Bilbao y Leon, the director general of the World Nuclear Association, wrote in her foreword to the World Nuclear Performance Report ahead of the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, in Glasgow last year: “Anything less (than) achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of this century … will mean failing to meet the goals set in the Paris Agreement.”

It is, she added, “vital that the contribution made by nuclear generation increases to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.”

New analysis by the WNA has shown that since 1970, the emission of 72 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide has been avoided through the use of nuclear reactors, compared with the emissions that would have been created had coal-fired generation been used instead.

(Shutterstock image)

Saudi Arabia uses no coal whatsoever to generate power. In 2020 it generated its electricity using a mix of natural gas (61 percent) and oil (39 percent). Of the two, burning gas creates the lower volume of greenhouse gases — and half as much as coal — producing far fewer pollutants in the process.

Nevertheless, both oil and gas contribute significantly to the Kingdom’s carbon footprint, which is why, in January 2021, Prince Abdulaziz said the country is committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2060.

The first major destination on that journey will be reached in 2030, by which time Saudi Arabia aims to source 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources, including wind, solar and nuclear power.

It is 84 years since the discovery of oil in Dhahran transformed the fortunes of Saudi Arabia. The oil will continue to flow for some years to come, funding the development of the renewable technologies — wind, solar and nuclear — that will eventually consign fossil fuels to history.

But it is uranium — the second gift bestowed, improbably, by the ground upon Saudi Arabia — that will power its economy and light its way into the future.


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Saudi woman criminology graduate trains with US police

Saudi woman criminology graduate trains with US police
Updated 06 October 2022

Saudi woman criminology graduate trains with US police

Saudi woman criminology graduate trains with US police
  • Alaa Al-Hamad spent a year with Indiana State department
  • Author of book on crime committed to Kingdom’s justice system

MAKKAH: A Saudi criminology graduate who spent a year training with the Indiana State Police in the US plans to use her expertise to tackle perpetrators in the country.

Alaa Al-Hamad said her alma mater, Indiana University, nominated her to undergo training with the state’s police department, after fulfilling criteria which included having no criminal record and excelling academically.

During her stint with the Indiana State Police, Al-Hamad dealt with a wide range of criminal activities including murder and theft. She also worked on a high number of suicide cases. She learned to shoot guns and handle German Shepherd dogs in the department’s K9 unit.

Speaking to Arab News, Al-Hamad said that the “experience was enriching” as she would accompany the police following 911 calls and conduct investigations.

Al-Hamad received a scholarship to study computer engineering at Indiana University after completing high school in 2017.

However, she did not enjoy computer engineering, and later “decided to major in criminal justice following the advice of one of her teachers.”

She said it was her ability to “analyze and reach conclusions” that led to her changing course in her studies. She graduated with distinction from the institution.

Al-Hamad has also authored a book titled “Another Kind of Crime” in which she writes about a variety of offenses, including those involving “emotional” abuse.

She said emotional crimes “are deeper” than physical ones, having long-lasting effects on victims, with perpetrators often causing harm unwittingly.

Al-Hamad urged Saudi women to take up studies in the field because there was a great need for committed and educated individuals to work in the criminal justice system.

She said crimes related to drug abuse was a scourge in society, and added that awareness programs should be launched at schools and universities to highlight the “devastating negative effects” it has on society, families and individuals.

KSrelief, OIC to provide food aid to Afghanistan

KSrelief, OIC to provide food aid to Afghanistan
Updated 05 October 2022

KSrelief, OIC to provide food aid to Afghanistan

KSrelief, OIC to provide food aid to Afghanistan

The King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center signed an agreement on Tuesday with the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to provide food aid to Afghanistan, which would help alleviate the effects of poverty and natural disasters.

The pact was signed by Ahmed bin Ali Al-Baiz, KSrelief’s assistant general supervisor of operations and programs, and Mohammed Saeed Al-Ayyash, director general of the OIC mission in Afghanistan, at the center’s headquarters in Riyadh.

Under the agreement, 47,400 food baskets weighing 2,938 tons will be distributed to flood-affected and needy families in 24 Afghan provinces, benefiting 284,400 individuals.

Each basket will weigh 62 kilograms and include flour, rice, beans, dates, vegetable oil and sugar.

KSrelief provides aid to those in need across the world.

Search for Saudi Arabia’s gifted students underway

Search for Saudi Arabia’s gifted students underway
Updated 05 October 2022

Search for Saudi Arabia’s gifted students underway

Search for Saudi Arabia’s gifted students underway
  • Pupils in grades 3 to 10 targeted in nationwide drive
  • 2,480 students have already registered for aptitude test

A total of 2,480 students have already registered for the 13th edition of the National Project for the Identification of the Gifted, as the annual nationwide drive kicked off on Monday across cities in Saudi Arabia.

The project targets students in grades three to 10, with the closing date for applications on Dec. 15.

The project is organized annually by the King Abdulaziz and his Companions’ Foundation for Giftedness and Creativity, Mawhiba, in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Qiyas Center.

Students can register through their schools or on the Mawhiba website.

All registered students will have to sit for the Mawhiba Multiple Cognitive Aptitude Test, which will be held between Dec. 18 and Jan. 16 next year at the National Center for Assessment centers across the Kingdom.

The MMCAT is available in Arabic and English, and the test results will be announced on March 14, 2023.

Dr. Amal Al-Hazaa, acting secretary-general of Mawhiba, said that more than 466,000 male and female students have taken the aptitude test since the project’s inception in 2011.

Al-Hazaa said the national project seeks to discover, nurture and empower Saudi talent through the strategic partnership between Mawhiba, the Ministry of Education, and the Education and Training Evaluation Commission.

Selected students are given various sponsorships, including for study at prestigious universities abroad, training camps for international competitions in science, research and innovation, and admission to local academic programs.

Riyadh Outlet attracts sneakers collectors at Sneak.Me festival

Riyadh Outlet attracts sneakers collectors at Sneak.Me festival
Updated 05 October 2022

Riyadh Outlet attracts sneakers collectors at Sneak.Me festival

Riyadh Outlet attracts sneakers collectors at Sneak.Me festival

RIYADH: Sneaker collectors will be thrilled to know that Riyadh Outlet is currently hosting a festival called Sneak.Me.

Exploring the world of casual footwear, their designs and global reach is the focus of the Sneak.Me festival, which runs from Oct. 1–14 and is the first of its kind in the Kingdom, in Al-Rehab district.

In addition to an array of musical performances, the festival offers attendees sneakers in a variety of distinctive and unique designs, a museum, and an auction that will feature a selection of sneakers, rare and expensive collectibles, and limited editions. 

The Sneaker Museum showcases such items as 1998 Michael Jordan Chicago Bulls signed Air Jordan IV fire red sneakers, and Nike MAG Back To The Future sneakers among others. 

Signed Air Jordan IV fire red sneakers. (Supplied)

The first floor of the museum contains the auction area, and the second the collections of famous sneakers obsessives in the Arab world. 

Prince Faisal Al-Saud’s collection, featuring rare Yeezy Nike shoes, is on show, also including 1998 Jordan 6 Batman boots and Sadu Dunk shoes, made by hand from Saudi Sadu fabric. 

The museum contains 200 rare items as well as stores, brands and international designers specializing in custom designs.

Jordan 6 Batman boots. (Supplied)

British brand Matt B Customs, which makes exclusive hand-crafted costume footwear, came from Manchester to participate in the festival. 

“We create handmade custom footwear from branded shoes like Nike, Adidas, Balenciaga, Dior, and we customize them — we change them, paint them, we put new materials on them, and make it super unique. Also we have a website that you can order from,” founder Matt Burgess told Arab News.

Another British brand, Crep Protect, is also on hand to help you clean your shoes.

Aljan, a worker at Crep Protect, said: “This is our first time in Saudi Arabia, and our business is all about shoe cleaning, how to protect the shoe, and how to keep them clean.”

Crep Protect, a British brand. (Supplied)

The festival features a special area set aside for musical performances by local DJs and hip-hop groups.

A basketball court can be found in the sports zone, which also has a cafe with a unique view. It also hosts discussion sessions about sports and the various cultures of sneakers.

The area has many surprises for visitors such as the barber corner, where the Brazilian barber, Stenio, provides the finest grooming along with braids and dreadlocks by his partner Lil’ Boy. 

(Photo by Abdulaziz Al-Noman)

“Young guys love dreadlocks and I think it’s a great idea to have such a shop here for grooming and braiding because it’s special and different and I didn’t see it in Riyadh before, to have a barber shop among the festival and the turnout is crazy,” Lil’ Boy said. 

“This is my first visit to Saudi Arabia, and I’ve decided to stay and work as a barber because I like it here. Riyadh is nice, and the people here are wonderful,” Stenio said. 

A British personal shopper with A list clients, FTP Kicks, is one of the stores that caught people’s attention. (Supplied)

A British personal shopper with A list clients, FTP Kicks, is one of the stores that caught people’s attention.

“Since I’ve been collecting sneakers for 10 years and have a thorough understanding of them, I started this business in 2015, and everything you see here is authentic, sold out, and has a special backstory,” founder Hamza Inayat said.

Celebrities and influencers approach him for the most sought-after sneakers, he continued: “Once, a famous influencer reached out to me to get her a pair of the Travis Scott X Nike SB Dunk Lows in a size 38, and that size is a unicorn size — very hard to find — my client wanted them fast, and I managed to find them and deliver them to her within three days, and that was the hardest request I’ve had.”

Who’s Who: Al-Mohanad Al-Marwai, CEO of Arabian Coffee Institute

Who’s Who: Al-Mohanad Al-Marwai, CEO of Arabian Coffee Institute
Updated 06 October 2022

Who’s Who: Al-Mohanad Al-Marwai, CEO of Arabian Coffee Institute

Who’s Who: Al-Mohanad Al-Marwai, CEO of Arabian Coffee Institute

Al-Mohanad Al-Marwai is the co-founder and CEO of the Arabian Coffee Institute since January 2022.

The institute, comprised of experts and researchers, educates on all aspects of the coffee value chain, offering a wide range of internationally accredited training courses.

Al-Marwai is also the co-founder and CEO of two other companies in the coffee industry: Coffee Lights and AgriNexsus Ltd.

Coffee Lights specializes in the operation of coffee shops, consultation, training of staff and baristas, and the import and export of coffee. 

AgriNexsus Ltd. is a Ugandan-based organic farming and production company that uses Ugandan Community Supported Agriculture, which allows consumers to get high-quality local and seasonal food directly from certified farmers’ communities.

By leading both these organizations, Al-Marwai offers Saudi cafes a transparent supply chain of authentic specialty coffee served to the Kingdom’s public.

Over the past 12 years, Al-Marwai has founded eight companies in Saudi Arabia, Uganda, the UK and the US. 

During these years in the coffee industry, Al-Marwai has worked in quality assurance and business consultancy, supporting and empowering small businesses to launch and reach new heights.

He is one of 30 licensed coffee graders in the Kingdom; the total number of licensed coffee graders globally is only 3,000.

He is also among the 36 certified trainers in Saudi Arabia’s coffee industry. He has trained and mentored over 2,000 leaders in the coffee sector and entrepreneurship.

Al-Marwai has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Business and Technology in Jeddah.

He holds three master’s degrees: an MBA in multimedia from the University in Malaysia (2009); an MBA in entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial studies from the Prince Mohammed bin Salman College of Business and Entrepreneurship (2018); and a master’s degree in entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial studies from Babson College in Massachusetts (2018). 

In 2018, Al-Marwai also earned a diploma in the coffee skills program from the Specialty Coffee Association in London.

Currently, he is pursuing a master’s degree in coffee excellence from the Zurich University of Applied Sciences and will graduate in 2023.