Friday, September 30, 2011

Saudis to Build Nuclear Plants at $7 Billion Each

"[T]he kingdom [of Saudi Arabia] will build 16 nuclear reactors by 2030 at a cost of around $7 billion each." - source.

In an ever-growing list of countries that either are building, or plan to build, nuclear-powered electric power plants, none are building at an affordable cost.  The USA, Finland, China, now Saudi Arabia all publish numbers that indicate a new, 1,000 MW reactor costs anywhere from $7 to $11 billion.  China is building a six-reactor plant for $66 billion, or $11 billion apiece.   The recently-cancelled South Texas Nuclear Project Expansion in the USA was to cost $17 billion, but that was just a dream; no shovel had been turned and no delays had yet started, with the inevitable increase in financing costs.  Fully costed, the STNP expansion would be at least $22 billion, more likely $25 billion.  

At these price levels, electricity must be sold for at least 35 cents per kWh, just to pay for the investment and provide a reasonable return.  

The Saudis indicated that their growing economy requires a 7 percent per year increase in electric power production.  They don't want to burn oil for making power, they would rather sell the oil.  Thus, the need for nuclear power plants.  The Saudis are smart, as I've written before, but they are mistaken on this one.  No economy grows, nor can it grow, at much above 3 percent per year for very long.  A temporary growth spurt might occur of 7 or 8 percent for a year or two, but this is not sustainable.  

Thus, there is no need for the nuclear power plants. The Saudis should, instead, do what the rest of the world does where economics are important: build combined-cycle gas turbine power plants (CCGT).  The Saudis have access to natural gas in the Middle East, and could easily purchase what they don't self-produce.  These CCGT power plants are much more efficient than conventional steam-based power plants, at 59 percent compared to approximately 35 percent.  They also do not use nearly as much water, which is a huge consideration for nuclear power plants.  Where, and how, will the Saudis obtain sufficient cooling water for 16 nuclear power plants?  Nuclear plants require at least twice as much water for cooling, compared to the CCGT plants.  Of course, the nuclear power plants could be built on the coast and use seawater.  This greatly increases the cost of the plant because seawater is more corrosive than fresh water. 

Perhaps the Saudis have another motive, from watching what the Iranians have done in the past several years with their nuclear "power" program.  Perhaps, just perhaps, the Saudis are in a race for parity and do not want the Iranians to have the upper hand, even in nuclear power plants. 

Roger E. Sowell, Esq. 
Marina del Rey, California

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