A nuclear kingdom?


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Saudi Arabia’s atomic energy ambitions are grand enough to grant several reactor vendors multi-billion dollar contracts to keep them busy building in the desert for decades.

The fortunes of nuclear power plant builders around the world sank when a tsunami smashed into Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant in March 2011, sparking the worst nuclear crisis since the Chernobyl disaster.

Opposition to nuclear power has risen since in many countries, along with construction costs, but nuclear technology is gaining popularity in the Middle East, where soaring electricity demand is eating into oil and gas exports.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) picked a consortium of Korean companies in late 2009 to build the Gulf Arab region’s first nuclear power station, dashing French nuclear industry hopes of building the plant near Abu Dhabi.

But state-run French nuclear reactor builders should get something out of Saudi Arabia’s much larger nuclear programme, with Riyadh’s plans to build up to 17,000 MW one of the world’s biggest nuclear building markets for the next two decades.

France’s original large fleet of nuclear plants was built around one technology, and there are economies of scale to be enjoyed from building just one type.

But Saudi Arabia is likely to opt to build a variety of different plants to meet its rapidly rising power demand, according to the Vice President of King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE), which is responsible for steering the kingdom’s nuclear plans.

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