London: Knowing that when a newspaper headline begins with the prefix “Revealed”, most readers are familiar enough with media stenography to expect surprise or concern about what follows. I’m here.
But the real surprise came when the British Guardian published an article in 2020 headlined “Revealed: Saudi Arabia may have enough uranium ore to produce nuclear fuel.” The story has been going on for 50 years.
Saudi Arabia’s plans to develop a nuclear energy industry did not hatch overnight or in secret. In reality, for decades, the Kingdom has slowly, steadily and responsibly navigated a complex regulatory and technological path towards peaceful nuclear adoption.
It is clear that the Kingdom, which has acted cautiously and cautiously, is ready to embrace mature technologies at a time when access to clean energy has never been more important.
In February, the Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Mariano Grossi, told delegates at a virtual meeting in Riyadh that the IAEA would work closely with Saudi Arabia to develop infrastructure for its peaceful nuclear energy programme. He said he was helping to develop
In March, Prince Abdullah bin Khalid bin Sultan was Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Austria and Saudi Arabia’s IAEA Governor General announced the establishment of the Saudi Nuclear Energy Holding Company. Electricity and desalination of salt water. ”
A 2020 Guardian article appears to refer to investigations launched by Saudi and Chinese geologists in 2017. They conducted his two-year exploration of potentially uranium-rich sites in the Kingdom in collaboration with colleagues from the Geological Survey of Finland. , by the way, was first identified 50 years before him.
As for what was “uncovered” in the article, the details of the study and the results of the first year’s findings were publicly presented in a paper submitted to the IAEA-sponsored International Symposium on Uranium Feedstock for Nuclear Fuel Cycles. June 2018 in Vienna.
All three co-authors of this paper were scientists at King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, or KA CARE for short. The organization was established in 2010 with the “fundamental objective of building a sustainable future for Saudi Arabia by developing substantial alternative energy capabilities fully supported by world-class local industry.” was established by royal decree in
Thus, with its creation, the Kingdom is ahead of the climate change curve, with nuclear power being one of the clean energy options.
As recognized by the creation of KA CARE, Saudi Arabia has a “rapidly growing population, putting increasing pressure on the country’s non-renewable hydrocarbon resources.”
“There is a need to introduce sustainable and reliable alternative energy sources to generate electricity and produce demineralized water in order to reduce the consumption of the country’s fossil fuel reserves,” it concluded.
Following “extensive technical and economic analysis,” the decision was made to “introduce nuclear and renewable energy to a large part of Saudi Arabia’s future energy mix.”
As a Viennese newspaper pointed out in 2018, there was nothing secret about the kingdom’s uranium stocks or its plans to develop self-sufficiency in nuclear fuel for its potential future power reactors.
Geological surveys conducted as early as 1965 were fueled by the abundant supply of raw nuclear material that Saudi Arabia needs, alongside the fossil fuels that have transformed it since its discovery in the early 20th century. suggested that there might be. To continue economic growth and development in the post-oil era.
It has been 35 years since the Saudi Geological Survey identified these enormous uranium reserves, and 10 since KA CARE was established in Riyadh to work closely with international organizations to advance the Kingdom’s nuclear agenda. It will be over a year. These partnerships are now bearing fruit.
The most important of these bodies is the IAEA. The IAEA is an intergovernmental forum for scientific and technological cooperation in the field of nuclear energy, established in 1956 to “accelerate and expand the contribution of nuclear energy to peace, health and prosperity throughout the world”. ”
Saudi Arabia has been a member of the IAEA since 1962. In January 2013, then-Director General of the IAEA, Yukiya Amano, visited Saudi Arabia and was briefed by Saudi authorities on plans to introduce nuclear power into the country’s energy mix. .
Since then, Saudi Arabia has adhered to its commitments and obligations under the IAEA’s ‘Milestone Approach’. This is a series of her three stages, starting with the formal inclusion of nuclear power as an element of the national energy strategy and culminating in construction, commissioning and construction. Operation of a nuclear power plant.
Saudi Arabia has completed Phase 1, which includes a series of feasibility studies, and Phase 2, which includes the establishment of key institutions along with the legal and regulatory framework.
The company is currently embarking on Phase 3, during which “activities are taking place to contract, license and build its first nuclear power plant.” It ends with Milestone 3, “The first nuclear power plant is ready for commissioning and operation.”
The commitment to advance the development of nuclear power was embedded in the National Energy Program launched in 2016 as part of the Saudi Vision 2030 National Transformation Programme. The following July, the government approved the Saudi National Nuclear Project, and in March 2018, established the Nuclear and Radiation 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, conducted a 12-day review of Saudi Arabia’s readiness.
Team leader Jose Bastos, technical leader of the IAEA’s Nuclear Infrastructure Development Section, concludes:
This review of the integrated nuclear infrastructure is an important step and was welcomed in a statement by KA CARE President Khalid Al-Sultan.
“The Saudi Arabia 2030 vision sees nuclear energy as a key energy source underpinning stability and sustainable growth,” he said.
The review was “a valuable tool for identifying areas for improvement and ensuring the necessary infrastructure is in place before signing a contract to build the first nuclear power plant in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” I did,” he added.
In 2019, plans were announced to establish the Saudi Nuclear Energy Holding Company, which was officially launched in March of this year.
Behind the scenes, a huge amount of technical preparatory work is underway. A study was conducted to identify and prepare suitable sites for the first two power reactors to be built. Light pressurized water reactors are considered the most suitable technology for the Kingdom’s nascent nuclear needs.
Meanwhile, work has also begun on perhaps the kingdom’s most dramatic Vision 2030-related project. It is “the first reactor to be a low-power research reactor designed to support rigorous training and personnel development programs and to be a tool for research and development.” It was laid by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology in November 2015.
How close Saudi Arabia is to building its first full-scale nuclear reactor became clear in April 2021. At that time, in an online training course held by the IAEA for Saudi Arabia, 50 nuclear regulators, National Guard, customs and port officials, and more than 20 other officials from Saudi government agencies were trained in radiation or nuclear emergencies. I learned more about my role as a first responder when things go wrong.
A few months later, in September 2021, Saudi Arabia became the 37th country to join the IAEA’s response and support network, RANET, the third in the region after Egypt and Israel. It is a global scheme that enables members to provide and request timely assistance in the event of a nuclear accident or radiological emergency.
In May of this year, when British consultancy EY was appointed as a ‘deal adviser’ for Saudi Arabia’s first large-scale nuclear power project, two reactors expected to have a capacity of up to 4 gigawatts, You’ve reached another important checkpoint. , enough to power 3 million homes.
In line with the IAEA’s milestone approach, Saudi Arabia is now ready to submit a tender and negotiate a contract for the construction of its power plant.
For Saudi Arabia, reaching the third milestone – the point at which the first power plants can come online and pump clean electricity into the national grid – will fundamentally change the country’s energy consumption profile. It will be the moment to start.
In addition, nuclear power plants will not start operating immediately. At current growth rates, Saudi Arabia’s peak energy demand is expected to exceed 120 gigawatts by 2030, according to KA CARE. This means there is a shortfall of 60 gigawatts based on the current energy supply.
Nuclear power is expected to play an important role in desalination as well. By 2030, the demand for water is projected to be 7 million cubic meters per day, 3 million more than the current capacity.
In January, Energy Minister Abdulaziz bin Salman told the World Economic Forum that Saudi Arabia could even use nuclear power to produce hydrogen gas.Hydrogen gas burns cleanly, but requires energy to extract from water
By embracing nuclear power, Saudi Arabia is not only taking steps to avert a looming energy crisis, but is also contributing to the fight against global warming.
Sama Bilbao y León, Executive Director of the World Nuclear Association, wrote in the preface to the Global Nuclear Performance Report ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26 in Glasgow last year: Emitting greenhouse gases by mid-century means that we will not meet the targets set in the Paris Agreement. ”
She added, “It is essential to increase the contribution of nuclear power to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels.”
A new analysis by the WNA shows that since 1970, 72 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions have been generated by nuclear reactors compared to emissions that would have been produced if coal-fired power had been used instead. circumvented by using
Saudi Arabia does not use any coal for power generation. In 2020, it used a mixture of natural gas (61%) and oil (39%) to generate electricity. Of the two, combustion gases have the lowest amount of greenhouse gases, half that of coal, and produce far fewer pollutants in the process.
Nevertheless, both oil and gas contribute significantly to the kingdom’s carbon footprint, so in January 2021, Prince Abdulaziz pledged to make the country carbon neutral by 2060. said there is.
The first major destination on that journey will be reached in 2030, by which time Saudi Arabia aims to source 50% of its electricity from renewable sources such as wind, solar and nuclear.
It’s been 84 years since the discovery of oil in Dhahran changed the fortunes of Saudi Arabia. Oil will continue to flow for years to come, funding the development of renewable technologies such as wind, solar and nuclear, ultimately leaving fossil fuels to history.
But it is uranium that powers the Saudi economy and lights the way to the future.
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