The Importance of Nuclear Energy to Saudi Arabia

Hamza Aljamaan
February 26, 2014

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2014


Fig. 1: Detailed Map of Saudi Arabia. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

A question that is being discussed recently: Why is, Saudi Arabia, one of the world's largest producer and exporter of petroleum liquids interested in Nuclear energy?

Saudi Arabia continues to increase its production capacity to meet the growing energy demand around the globe. In fact, in 2009 Saudi Aramco, the national oil company of Saudi Arabia, reached its maximum production capacity of 12 million barrels of oil a day. The country exports most of its oil production and the remaining oil is used to meet the local energy consumption. Domestic oil and gas consumption is centered in the area of transportation and electricity generation. [1] Electricity used for powering water desalination plants and other utilities is generated through classical gas turbine systems. Electricity generation through solar energy is yet to be carried out in the shiny kingdom. Although Saudi Arabia has a high direct sun radiation index, challenges for solar cell installation are currently being encountered due to the harsh environment of the empty quarter desert. The very high temperatures along with heavy dust and winds are characteristics of the empty quarter desert.

Saudi Arabia consumes the most petroleum liquids among all other middle eastern countries. The population of Saudi Arabia is about 28.29 million with an annual growth rate of 1.9 percent. Recently, there has been concern from the Saudi government about the rapid increase in local energy demand due to factors such as population growth, economic development, and highly subsidized fossil fuel costs. In 2009, Saudi Arabia was ranked as the 13th largest consumer of total primary energy. [1] Currently, the country uses a quarter of its oil production and all of its natural gas production. This is an alarming number and is higher per capita in comparison to other industrialized nations. In fact, the local demand is expected to increase by 2030 to consume the daily oil production and more. [2] This would make Saudi Arabia a net oil importer instead of exporter if no other alternative energy resources are utilized. The highly subsidized energy prices in Saudi Arabia lead to inefficient consumption. Saudi consumers tend to be inefficient users due to the low energy costs. During the peak summer season, the demand for electricity rapidly increases because of temperature rising to an average of 122 degrees Fahrenheit requiring air conditioning systems to be active all the time. Because there is no enough gas to supply power generators during peak consumption times, Saudi Arabia burns 800,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day to meet this growing domestic demand. [3]

Nuclear Energy Plan

Due to the alarming increase in the domestic energy consumption, Saudi Arabia plans to diversify its energy mix portfolio. This will allow the country to reduce its full reliance on fossil fuels for domestic power generation. In fact, the CEO of Saudi Aramco mentioned the importance in investing in alternative energy to avoid a loss of 3 million barrels a day in oil exports by the end of the decade. [1] In fact, the plan is to increase the capacity to 120 GW by 2030 through investments exceeding 100 billion dollars over the next ten years. [3]

In efforts to reduce the reliance on fossil fuels, the Saudi government launched King Abdullah City for Nuclear and Renewable Energy also known as (KA-CARE) to develop the renewable energy sector in Saudi Arabia. In 2012, KA-CARE proposed an increase in the production capacity to 120 GW by 2032. This projection is comprised of (1) 17 GW from Nuclear Energy, (2) 16 GW from Solar PV, (3) 25 GW from Solar CSP, (4) 4 GW from Geothermal, Wind and waste, (5) the reminder from Fossil Fuels. [1,4]

80 billion dollars are to be allocated by KA-CARE to build 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 years with a proposed construction date in 2016. These reactors will be mainly used to generate 20 percent of Saudi Arabia's electricity needs. Small power reactors will also be used for water desalination projects. Three potential sites were identified: Jubail by the Gulf sea, and Tabuk and Jizan by the Red Sea. To support the nuclear program, bilateral agreements were made with countries including China, Argentina, France, and South Korea. KA-CARE recently signed contracts with GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, and Toshiba/Westinghouse. These companies proposed building the following reactors: Advanced Boiling Water Reactor (ABWR), Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR), and an AP1000 nuclear power plant. In addition, several contracts were signed with the French nuclear power company, Areva, and Électricité de France (EDF) to support the Saudi Nuclear program after president Francois Hollande's visit to Riyadh on the 30th of December, 2013.

© Hamza Aljamaan. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] Saudi Arabia, U.S. Energy Information Admistration, 26 Feb 13.

[2] A. Daya and D. El Baltaji, "Saudi Arabia May Become Oil Importer by 2030, Citigroup Says," Bloomberg Businessweek, 4 Sep 12.

[3] M. Haroutunian and A. DiPaola, "Saudi Arabia Looks to Solar, Nuclear Power to Reduce Its Oil Use by Half," Bloomberg, 3 Apr 11.

[4] S. Said, "Saudi Arabia, France Sign Nuclear-Energy Deal," Wall Street Journal, 22 Feb 11.