EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: The US is on the horns of a dilemma regarding Saudi Arabia’s interest in nuclear power. Washington would like to cajole Riyadh into a deal that would strengthen non-proliferation, but the kingdom is well aware of the competitors vying for its business and is not necessarily receptive to such arguments. This is a concern for the US, which does not want a Russian or Chinese nuclear energy market to flourish in Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia is planning to develop 16 nuclear reactors over the next quarter century, for which it is willing to invest $80 billion.
Nuclear energy is crucial to Riyadh for three reasons. First, the growing demand for electricity in the kingdom due to economic growth and development requires more energy, and nuclear power can provide clean energy. KACARE (King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy) reports that the “annual increase in domestic demand for energy ranges now between six percent to eight percent and that the Kingdom will have to increase its generated power by 80 GWe by 2040.”
Second, Riyadh wants to diversify its energy mix. By using nuclear energy to supply domestic demand, the kingdom would be able to reduce its dependence on its own crude oil and export more of it instead.