Thursday, August 18, 2011

Saudi Arabia boosts its nuclear energy ambitions

Curbing domestic oil use is a key driver

power linesThe Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) plans to build 16 nuclear reactors over the next 20 years spending an estimated $7 billion on each plant. The $112 billion investment, which includes capacity to become a regional exporter of electricity, will provide one-fifth of the nation’s electricity for industrial and residential use and, critically, for desalinization of sea water.

This past April, the Saudi government announced the development of a nuclear city to train and house the technical workforce that will be needed to achieve these ambitions. It is clear that KSA's plans for spending its sovereign wealth fund will be mostly focused on the home front.

At the same time, a former Saudi ambassador to the United States , Prince Turki al-Faisal (2005-2006), has warned that a regional nuclear arms race could start if Iran does not curb its nuclear efforts. He told the Wall Street Journal on July 20, "It is in our interest that Iran does not develop a nuclear weapon, for their doing so would compel Saudi Arabia … to pursue policies that could lead to untold and possibly dramatic consequences."

According to the WSJ, the Saudi government said the former ambassador does not speak for it in an official capacity. Al-Faisal, however, is widely believed to be on a short list to be the next foreign minister of KSA. How credible his claim is about the potential for a regional arms race remains to be seen.

Read the full story exclusively at ANS Nuclear Cafe online now.

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