Saudi Arabia looks to China and Korea for nuclear assistance

20 March 2017

China and Saudi Arabia on 16 March signed a cooperation agreement for a joint study on the feasibility of constructing high-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTGRs).

The agreement was signed in Beijing by China Nuclear Energy Engineering Group (CNEC) president Jun Gu and King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KA-CARE) president Hashim bin Abdullah Yamani.  CNEC said the two companies will consider the development of system solutions for the investment and construction of HTGRs. They will also examine cooperation in intellectual property and the development of a domestic industrial supply chain for HTGRs built in Saudi Arabia. The feasibility study will support the Saudi government in any decisions related to an HTGR project.

This followed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in January between China and Saudi Arabia on the construction of HTGRs. CNEC said that since signing the MOU, the two countries have been looking at site selection for the project, building a regulatory system, training personnel and other aspects of the project.

Saudi Arabia's nuclear programme is in the early stages, but the Kingdom has plans to construct 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 years. A 2010 royal decree identified nuclear power as essential to help meet growing energy demand for both electricity generation and water desalination, while reducing reliance on depleting hydrocarbon resources.

On 15 March, South Korea’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Kwon Pyung-oh, said Saudi Arabia has made significant progress in terms of acquiring technology to build nuclear reactors, and is working closely with South Korea on nuclear safety and security. The Kingdom has sent 41 nuclear experts to South Korea for training and to learn to design, construct and develop nuclear plants based on System-integrated Modular Advanced Reactor (SMART) technology, he added.

SMART is a 330MWt pressurised water reactor with integral steam generators and advanced safety features. The unit can be sued for electricity generation (up to 100MWe) as well as thermal applications, such as seawater desalination, with a 60-year design life and three-year refuelling cycle. Development had been stalled by the absence of any orders for an initial reference unit. The reactor received standard design approval from the Korean regulator in mid-2012 and theKorean Atomic Energy Research Institute (Kaeri) plans to build a demonstration plant to operate from 2017.

Nuclear cooperation between Korea and Saudi Arabia is based on a  memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in March 2015, which seeks to strengthen partnership in SMART reactor technology and human capacity-building in the nuclear sector. Kaeri and KA-CARE then signed a SMART pre-project engineering agreement in September 2015 that will remain in effect until November 2018. Another MOU was signed in November 2016 to strengthen cooperation on nuclear safety, security and regulations, exchanging information, technical cooperation, education and training last November. “I am confident that such efforts will lead to the successful construction and launch of SMART nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia,” Kwon said



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