Saudis Going Nuclear. What Could Go Wrong?

November 7, 2018

Aljazeera:

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has launched a project to build the first nuclear research reactor in the kingdom, the Saudi Press Agency reported.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MBS, launched seven strategic projects in renewable energy, atomic energy, water desalination, genetic medicine and the aircraft industry during his visit to King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology on Monday.

The two most significant projects include a nuclear research reactor and a centre for the development of aircraft structures.

binsalman

Seems like a nice guy

In March, MBS announced his country’s readiness to develop nuclear weapons in the event that Iran heads in that direction.

“Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible,” he told US broadcaster, CBS, in an interview.

Incidentally, the US, which withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal with Iran signed in 2015, reimposed oil and financial sanctions against Iran starting Monday.

Last year, the International Atomic Energy Agency said the Saudi government had invited proposals for the construction of two nuclear power reactors to boost the country’s energy mix.

The kingdom is considering building 17.6 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear capacity by 2032, the equivalent of about 17 reactors, making it one of the biggest projects globally.

According to Reuters news agency, Saudi Arabia is aiming to reduce the amount of crude it burns at home to generate electricity to allow it to sell more of it overseas.

If the kingdom proceeds with the plan, it would become the second Gulf Arab state to launch a nuclear power project after the United Arab Emirates, which is building four South Korea-designed reactors.

Adding to complexity.

Aljazeera:

SoftBank Group Corp’s Vision Fund will invest in creating the world’s biggest solar power project in Saudi Arabia, the group announced on Tuesday.

The project is expected to have the capacity to produce up to 200 gigawatts (GW) by 2030, SoftBank Chief Executive Masayoshi Son told reporters in New York.

That would add to around 400 GW of globally installed solar power capacity and is comparable to the world’s total nuclear power capacity of around 390 GW as of the end of 2016.

The final investment total for the 200 GW of generation, including the solar panels, battery storage and a manufacturing facility for panels in Saudi Arabia, will eventually total around $200bn, Son said.

Despite being one of the world’s sunniest countries, Saudi Arabia generates most of its electricity from oil-fired power plants.

Saudi’s entire installed power capacity is currently around 60 GW. Adding 200 GW would create enormous excess capacity that could be exported to neighbours or used by industry, although the kingdom will still require other forms of power generation for night-time back-up.

Industry estimates say around 300,000 to 800,000 barrels per day of crude oil are burned for Saudi power generation.

Exporting that oil could increase Saudi’s annual oil revenues by between $7bn and $20bn, at the current price for benchmark Brent LCOc1 oil of almost $70 per barrel.

“Saudi Arabia is clearly preparing for a post-fossil fuel dependent economy in terms of domestic energy consumption, and this huge bet on renewables would free up a lot of domestic output of oil for exports, while probably saving domestic gas resources as well,” said Peter Kiernan, lead energy analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit in Singapore.

Despite being one of the world’s sunniest countries, Saudi Arabia generates most of its electricity from oil-fired power plants.

Saudi’s entire installed power capacity is currently around 60 GW. Adding 200 GW would create enormous excess capacity that could be exported to neighbours or used by industry, although the kingdom will still require other forms of power generation for night-time back-up.

Industry estimates say around 300,000 to 800,000 barrels per day of crude oil are burned for Saudi power generation.

Exporting that oil could increase Saudi’s annual oil revenues by between $7bn and $20bn, at the current price for benchmark Brent LCOc1 oil of almost $70 per barrel.

“Saudi Arabia is clearly preparing for a post-fossil fuel dependent economy in terms of domestic energy consumption, and this huge bet on renewables would free up a lot of domestic output of oil for exports, while probably saving domestic gas resources as well,” said Peter Kiernan, lead energy analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit in Singapore.

 

 

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28 Responses to “Saudis Going Nuclear. What Could Go Wrong?”

  1. Andy Lee Robinson Says:

    They’re assuming there’ll still be a market for their oil. That assumes a lot.
    Would be much more sensible to invest those billions into solar and batteries instead of wasting them on nuclear.

    • dumboldguy Says:

      There will be a “market for oil” for decades to come the way things are going. And Saudi Arabia will be fossil fuel free domestically once it converts to long-lived reliable nuclear power. They can then sell the oil to whoever is still buying, and their production costs are so low that they will make a bundle—more than enough to pay for the nukes.

      As for solar, once the SHTF and the geo-engineers start shooting crap into the atmosphere (and little mirrors in near space) to cut down on SR, solar may become less reliable.

      Of course, that totally ignores the “what could go wrong” question of allowing a “research” reactor—-isn’t that how Pakistan got started?

      • Gingerbaker Says:

        “As for solar, once the SHTF and the geo-engineers start shooting crap into the atmosphere (and little mirrors in near space) to cut down on SR, solar may become less reliable.”

        And cows might fly. And hell will freeze over.

        Your unbridled enthusiasm for nuclear has just crossed over into burlesque.

    • Canman Says:

      Will there always be a market for oil? Nobel prize winning physicist, Robert Laughlin says the energy content of hydrocarbons is optimal — there will never be anything better.

      http://www.econtalk.org/laughlin-on-the-future-of-carbon-and-climate/?highlight=%5B%22laughlin%22%5D

      Is this true? Well, maybe chemically, but how about mechanically? How about flywheels made with carbon nano-tubes?

      https://wattsupwiththat.com/2018/10/26/space-race-game-changer-chinese-space-elevator-breakthrough/

      • grindupbaker Says:

        I’m a bit surprised to hear from you that carbon nanotubes must be made with the carbon from oil rather than the carbon from coal, wild fires or that time I warmed my bicycle shorts in the oven and made a mistake. Is it the benzene ring that’s required to form carbon nanotubes ?

        • Canman Says:

          It doesn’t matter where the carbon for the nano-tubes comes from. My point is that I was surprised to find that there might be a more energy dense way to store energy than hydrocarbons.

          • grindupbaker Says:

            In that case OK. As long as both the energy production and its densification don’t require oxidizing carbon (at least, not without a solid waste product) then it does have the potential to help reduce this global warming thing.

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        It still takes a lot more energy to process and transport molecules from fossil fuel than electrons. And combustion engines are barbaric and wasteful.

        OTOH, cats prefer to sleep on warm hoods in the winter.

  2. redskylite Says:

    According to scientific research much of Saudi Arabia and the MENA domain will encounter uninhabitable weather conditions as the century progresses.

    So we can hardly blame the region for going for as many power generation technologies as possible, not sure how nuclear technology will fare in the water strapped future, but I’m sure problems will be encountered. Presently there is also plenty of sun and desert; it makes sense to exploit that also, as they are doing in neighboring U.A.E. At least the region is not on the unstable Pacific rim of fire, like Japan and New Zealand.

    A few years ago, an academic report found that virtually no work was being carried out to prepare Arab countries for climate change challenges. Although the situation has changed slightly since then, these countries are still lagging behind. The Arab world is slated to face many difficult effects of climate change in the coming decades, some of which will affect the region in profound ways.

    http://www.arabnews.com/node/1237551

    • jfon Says:

      ‘ not sure how nuclear technology will fare in the water strapped future ‘
      They’ll use ocean water for cooling. Abu Dhabi is building 5.2 Gigawatts worth of Korean reactors. They’ll lose a few percentage points of efficiency from using the 30 C waters of the Persian Gulf for cooling, instead of ~ 15 C from the Sea of Japan, but they won’t be troubled by nightfall, or sandstorms, or dust on the panels. ( Solar panels can also suffer reduced output in high temperatures.)
      Various Middle Eastern states are also investigating nuclear desalination, to ensure their water supplies long term. The Saudis have an option on the Chinese high temperature helium cooled pebble bed reactor, the first example of which should reach criticality this year. That would be much better for desalination, and useless for developing a bomb.

      • rsmurf Says:

        All fine but should that area of the world continually try to do things that the environment doesn’t allow. Matter of fact the rest of the world shouldn’t try to do things that the environment cannot support on its own.

  3. jfon Says:

    ‘What could go wrong ?’ MBS could murder somebody wth a profile, instead of the usual impoverished Yemenis that nobody is too concerned about.
    Pakistan I’m not too worried about. Like Saudi Arabia, its government is chronically corrupted by an alliance with intolerant strains of Islam. In Pakistan’s case, it’s a way for the military to keep power; in Saudi, the princes. But Pakistan fought three wars with India before both countries developed nuclear weapons, and it was only after that that a hotline was installed between Islamabad and New Delhi. Mimicking the US/USSR Cold War, neither country can afford to push the other too far. A nuclear peace, however uneasy, is much less destructive than a conventional war.

  4. redskylite Says:

    “The design of the reactor has been developed by KACST scientists with the help of international experts. Construction of the reactor is already underway and expected to be completed by the end of next year.

    It will follow all the safety standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The reactor is designed to use uranium oxide fuel with 2.1 percent enrichment.

    And notably the desalination plants are solar-powered.”

    http://www.arabnews.com/node/1399806/saudi-arabia

    • grindupbaker Says:

      When I worked on a Safety Code committee pondering Safety Code changes (not nuclear) it was mentioned that nuclear used a Performance Based Code rather than a Prescriptive Safety Code but I don’t recall whether that was only for North America. The difference is interesting but beyond the scope of here and I don’t have any “bottom line” opinion anyway. Prescriptive Code is obvious like “The wheel shaft shall be made of malleable steel of no less than…thickness…carbon content…cast iron not permitted…..” and so on. Performance Based Code is like “The shaft shall not break” or “A person shall not be killed or injured by this nuclear reactor boiler”. Each of those is called a Globally Essential Safety Requirement (GESR) and the Safety Code committee produces the full list of these and with each item provides a Safety Integrity Level (SIL) of 1, 2, 3 or 4 (each a decimal order of magnitude better in safety than the one before as I recall from memory). You can find it on Wiki.

      The Performance Based Code relies on certified testing agencies/laboratories to test the assembly they’ve been given, certify that it will not fail in less than 10,000,000,000 operations or will not kill anybody for at least 99 years, or whatever the SIL is, and put the certification label on it.

      The purpose of Performance Based Code rather than Prescriptive Safety Code is to permit new technologies without the need for years of wait for Safety Code committee pondering changes for new technologies, so your replacement nuclear reactor boiler might be in a nice new plastic material after your steel one wore out but it must have that testing agency sticker.

      As you see, Prescriptive Safety Code and Performance Based Code are very different. I don’t know which is the “safety standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency”.

  5. rsmurf Says:

    The only thing that bill gates has said that makes sense is, we should tax industrial robots. And he also said during the monopoly hearings that Microsoft did not keep track of the number of copies of their windows software that they sold, now thats funny. Maybe by 2028 they will have something? LOL LOL Wonderful technology! NOT. Insanity to use one of the most dangerous things on the planet to boil water.

  6. Gingerbaker Says:

    “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible”

    No need, Israel will blow up Iran’s nuclear aspirations good, r-e-a-l good. Work with them, Saud. Build more solar.Try supporting Israel more in the U.N. Play nice with your non insane neighbors.

  7. Canman Says:

    I’d say the nuclear genie is out of the bottle and can’t be put back in. On the plus side, nuclear energy is the cleanest, safest, lowest environmental impact, form of electricity generation. As for renewables, unicorn dust is the new snake oil.

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      Safest, is it? And you have the chutzpah to accuse RE proponents of believing in fairy dust? Good effing grief. 😦

      • dumboldguy Says:

        Yeah, the cleanest, safest, lowest impact form of electricity generation. At least for now. You and the members of the RE cult simply refuse to accept the reality of the numbers—-you are deniers and you have the nerve to say “Good effing grief”?. JFC!

        • Gingerbaker Says:

          How many people have died from radiation poisoning and cancers from solar panels, again, DOG? Or wind?

          I can’t seem to recall the figures. But they must be pretty effing high, considering that Chernobyl alone has killed somewhere between 4,000 and 985,000 depending on which study you want to quote.

          Cleanest, safest form of electricity generation? Good effing grief!!!
          WTF!!??!!

          • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

            Lots of sites with numbers.
            https://climate.nasa.gov/news/903/coal-and-gas-are-far-more-harmful-than-nuclear-power/
            Do not know how many workers have fallen off wind towers. If you want 100% safety, go live in fantasy land. Meanwhile 9,000,000 people die every year from pollution and the planet heads for catastrophe. Do what works now! Ruin views with wind towers and solar farms, change valleys into hydro lakes and ignore unscientific dogma and build turnkey nuclear power stations. Trivial compared to the alternative.

          • dumboldguy Says:

            Don’t try to talk scientific facts and real numbers to GB, Brent—-he’s too caught up in his cognitive dissonance to pay any attention. You beat me to it with the numbers for YEARLY deaths from air pollution, which range from 4.6 to 9 million per year, with most estimates in the 6 to 7 million range (and that doesn’t count another 1.5-2 million per year from chemical pollution).

            For everyone’s information, the number of confirmed direct deaths from Chernobyl during the three months after the accident is 31 (THIRTY-ONE), with ~30 more in later years.

            Give it up, GB!—-you embarrass yourself with your denial of facts, especially when you quote the insane figure of 985,000, which did not come from a “study” but was PFTA (Plucked From Thin Air) by ax grinders. There are lots of good articles out there that explain the uncertainties and give reasonable estimates of future deaths—why do you refuse to read them? Here’s one:

            https://slate.com/technology/2013/04/chernobyl-death-toll-how-many-cancer-cases-are-caused-by-low-level-radiation.html

            “When the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded in 1986, experts predicted as many as 40,000 extra cancer deaths from the radiation spewed onto parts of what was then the Soviet Union. Friday is the 27th anniversary of the disaster. How many people has Chernobyl killed so far?

            “We’ll probably never know. That’s partly because even 40,000 cancer deaths are less than 1 percent of the cancer mortality expected in the affected population. Statistically, the deaths are undetectable. Even if they weren’t, science usually can’t say that a particular cancer was induced by radiation rather than something else.

            “One exception is thyroid cancer, a very rare disease in children that skyrocketed to nearly 7,000 cases in Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine by 2005. There is no doubt that radioactivity from Chernobyl caused them, including about a dozen fatalities. We also know that two people died in the explosion and more than 100 people, mostly firefighters ignorant of the dangers, received doses high enough to cause acute radiation syndrome. Of them, 29 died within a few months, followed by 18 more deaths over the years. The group seems to be at higher risk for blood cancers.

            “Other than those sad cases, controversy rages about Chernobyl’s death toll. For the vast majority of the most affected populations, the disaster delivered doses equivalent to a handful of CAT scans. At such low levels, radiation’s health effects are considered long-term and stochastic, or essentially random”.

          • Gingerbaker Says:

            Coal and gas are NOT renewable energy. Nobody gives a **** if nuclear doesn’t produce so, etc. That doesn’t bear *at all* on the preposterous assertion that nuclear is the safest form of energy.

            That is Trumpian *what about…* mislogic.

        • Gingerbaker Says:

          And now DOG jumps in, talking about yearly deaths from air pollution. Did the IQ level just drop in the room?

          Please tell us about the morbidity and mortality from *air pollution* associated with solar and wind and hydro and geothermal and tide.

          We are all on the edge of our seats, aquiver with the anticipation that there is a chance, albeit a teensy one, that you will say something cogent to the question. And the question is – because you both seem to have forgotten – your absurd assertion that:

          “Nuclear is the cleanest, safest, lowest impact form of electricity generation”.

          And DOG, you have the temerity to assert that Chernobyl only killed 31 people from acute radiation exposure, and that other numbers are simply made up.

          You need to publish your findings, because the rest of the world is under my same delusion – that nuclear isotopes are highly-energetic very long-lived cancer-inducing poisons whose downstream health effects can and DO take decades to realize.

          Here is 179 pages of U.N. report and data attributing 4000 cases of cancer to Chernobyl:

          http://www.unscear.org/docs/reports/2008/11-80076_Report_2008_Annex_D.pdf

          +_+_+_+_+_+_+_+

          You say the 985,000 deaths figure was “plucked from thin air” by “ax grinders”.

          Wow.

          Actually, the number comes from a 345-page research study,[https://ratical.org/radiation/Chernobyl/yablokov2009-Chernobyl-sm.pdf] published in 2009 as a monograph in the New York Academy of Sciences.

          It was edited by Janet Sherman, MD. who has worked at the Atomic Energy Commission and the U.S. Navy Radiation Defense Laboratory prior to her medical degree. She served on the advisory board for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Toxic Substances Control Act. She has been an advisor to the National Cancer Institute on breast cancer and to the EPA on pesticides.

          The research was done by 3 Russian scientists:

          Russian biologist Dr. Alexey Yablokov, former environmental advisor to the Russian president; Dr. Alexey Nesterenko, a biologist and ecologist in Belarus; and Dr.Vassili Nesterenko, a physicist and at the time of the accident director of the Institute of Nuclear Energy of the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.

          Not exactly slouching “ax grinders”.

          Take a gander at the report. Then get back to us.

    • Brent Jensen-Schmidt Says:

      Observing the relative safety etc of nuclear is the equivalent to bringing scientific facts to a dogma fight. About as useful as presenting facts to a denier. Still, battle on, the world is at stake. RE is actually great, it is just the 100% fantasy that is silly.

  8. redskylite Says:

    Why the hell do you have to continue argue (and cuss), about nuclear vs wind, solar, tidal etc. There is no exclusive alternative to fossils. Industry experts will hopefully choose the best solution based on locality, cost and time to build.

    Nuclear requires coolant water and will be built by the sea in the gulf states, hopefully taking into consideration SLR, considerable sea temperature increases as the century progresses and Tsunami threats. In the Arabian desert interior and away from the grid; sun is in great abundance for solar exploitation, wind is also being investigated. You should be pleased that such choices are available for an area that will suffer so much later on in the century, thanks to the industrial revolution.

    So please, please stop the petty and needless arguing.

    “More wind power ahead as Arab world looks to diversify its energy mix”

    https://www.thenational.ae/business/energy/more-wind-power-ahead-as-arab-world-looks-to-diversify-its-energy-mix-vestas-says-1.624065

  9. redskylite Says:

    And I propose a highland toast to “Unicorn Dust”

    The site was originally shut down as part of a shift to more renewable power – around 220,000 hours have been spent removing waste from the decommissioned facility.

    https://www.energylivenews.com/2018/11/09/scottishpower-demolishes-longannet-coal-power-station/


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