Friday, April 23, 2010

Saudi Arabia to Establish the 'King Abdullah City for Nuclear & Renewable Energy'

Via -

Saudi Arabia last week announced the establishment of a renewable energy complex, confirming the country’s interest in nuclear energy.

The King Abdullah City for Nuclear and Renewable Energy, set to be established in Riyadh, will, according to a royal decree, be tasked with the research and application of nuclear technology and oversee all aspects of a nuclear power industry, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

In an effort to diversify the country’s oil-based energy industry, Saudi Arabia has been experimenting with alternative energies such as solar power. Nuclear power is a growing focus area.

Analysts say, however, that politics may have played a major role in the Saudi decision to focus on nuclear technology, as the kingdom’s leaders feel increasingly threatened by the specter of a nuclear Iran.

Dr. Theodore Karasik, director for Research and Development with the Dubai-based Institute of Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, said the plan to build the new complex is motivated by both economics and political factors.

“You have to take it in the context of the other GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] or Arab states in terms of their transparency,” Karasik said. “Many of them are trying to move toward nuclear energy capabilities in order to be transparent, as opposed to the Iranians, who are not.”

Sunni countries in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, are concerned about Shi’ite Iran becoming a nuclear power and in recent years have started developing nuclear programs of their own. While such programs are ostensibly all civilian, analysts say the underlying message to Iran is that these countries have both the know-how and the capability to respond to an atomic threat.

“It’s a trend in the region, and they need it,” Karasik said. “They are looking ahead 40 or 50 years from now and many of these countries need to develop it now to plan for the future.”

The Saudi announcement did not specify time frames and Karasik said ambitious projects of these kinds could take 15-20 years before becoming a reality.

Nuclear power is also a way to save crude oil for export while still providing energy for local consumption. The kingdom has around 20 percent of the world’s proven petroleum reserves and is the largest exporter of petroleum.

Saudi Arabia has a petroleum sector that accounts for roughly 80% of its budget revenues, 45% of its GDP and 90% of its export earnings.

The new energy complex will fund university research labs and help the private sector develop nuclear applications for agriculture, health care, water desalination and power.

The new institution will also be tasked with drafting a national policy on nuclear energy development, supervising the commercial use of nuclear power and handling radioactive waste.

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