Rosatom makes shortlist for Saudi Arabia’s first two nuclear power stations

Saudi Arabia’s nuclear authorities have announced that Russian nuclear engineer Rosatom has joined the shortlist to build two nuclear power plants, each with a capacity of 2.8GW, as the first stage of its plan to build 17GW of nuclear power by 2040 at a cost of about $80bn.

The announcement was accompanied by an article in the Saudi Gazette lauding Rosatom’s VVER-1200 design, which it described as "not only the world’s first generation 3-plus reactor, but also the first to be produced as a serial project".

The VVER pressurised water design is in use in two nuclear plants in Russia and will be the first reactor to be installed in Turkey and Egypt. Its evident buildability is at a premium following the problems with other advanced designed, such as the Franco-German EPW.

The kingdom has been in negotiations with potential builders in China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the US over the plan, with South Korea considered the frontrunner following the success of the Korea Electric Power Corporation (Kepco) in building the $25bn Barakah nuclear plant complex in the UAE (pictured), albeit with delays. South Korea was added to the shortlist at the beginning of this month.

The Saudi authorities were expected to draw up a shortlist of only two or three companies for the project, however Korea’s Ministry of Trade and Industry has commented that they will name companies from all the competing countries in order to maximise competitive tension.

A winning tender is expected to be chosen in 2019.

So far, Saudi Arabia had identified two possible sites for power stations, on the Gulf coast at Umm Huwayd and Khor Duweihin.

The report added that Rosatom would also "supply the reactor with fuel throughout its operational lifetime, assist with training nuclear personnel, developing the regulatory framework, establishing the customer’s nuclear infrastructure, as well as increasing the public acceptance of nuclear power".

This proposal may meet with objections from the US, which is under pressure from Israel to ensure that "Washington would be the only power allowed to sell nuclear fuel to Riyadh and that the US would guarantee removal of all used nuclear fuel from the kingdom", according to a report last week in Newsweek magazine.

A second Saudi nuclear plan is centred on developing small modular reactors, which will be used to supply heat energy to desalination plants.  

Image: Barakah in the UAE: the first nuclear power plant in an Arab state (Arun Girija/ENEC)

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