Russia’s state-owned Rosatom has signed an agreement with a Saudi partner to execute nuclear projects in the country and is looking to team up with more local players as part of a cooperation deal inked last year, a senior executive told Argaam.
Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil producer, is looking to build two nuclear plants to diversify its energy supply.
Rosatom, which was shortlisted earlier in July to bid for the Kingdom’s first nuclear power plant (NPP), is already adapting its technology for Saudi conditions, said Milos Mostecky, nuclear projects director and vice president, Rosatom Overseas.
Elsewhere in the region, the company is working with Jordan to build small-capacity nuclear plants, after a plan for a larger project has been put on hold, Mostecky said.
The full interview is below:
Q: When would you expect to start work on the Saudi nuclear project, assuming your bid is successful?
A: We are already adapting our project for specific Saudi conditions so actually the work on the project is already underway. As for contractual obligations, that will depend on our customer. We are ready.
Q: Have you been in talks with any international or local Saudi partners for the Saudi NPP? Are you considering forming a joint venture or consortium of any kind?
A: We have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with a strong Saudi partner and we are jointly developing a comprehensive localization and human resources development program with them.
Constructing large NPPs is not the only prospective area of our cooperation with Saudi Arabia. Last October, we concluded a complex cooperation program that covers the exploration of a range of areas – nuclear infrastructure, building nuclear science and research centers, small and medium NPPs, desalination etc. We will certainly be engaging local partners for the implementation of projects across all of these areas.
Q: What are the main challenges facing the development of nuclear power in KSA?
A: One of the key challenges for us and our Saudi partners is the need to develop the entire infrastructure for the project – from the regulatory framework up to integrating such a large single load into the grid. More to that, there are a lot of questions related to the construction of the NPP to be solved, such as personnel training, nuclear regulatory authority development, nuclear fuel supplies for a life cycle of an NPP and so on.
As for technical issues, one of the most serious challenges in the Saudi project is the climate – specifically, high temperatures, both of the air and water (which is required for cooling the plant). That said, Rosatom has implemented projects in similar conditions, which is why our design will fully meet all the requirements.
Q: Nuclear power is not viewed favorably in many markets. How do you work to improve its public perception?
A: Globally, nuclear power is actually in a pretty good shape right now. An increasing number of countries are coming to recognize nuclear as a clean and efficient source of energy.
However, myths and misconceptions about nuclear power still negatively influence public opinion; but the interesting thing is that public acceptance of nuclear power tends to be higher in countries and areas that have their own nuclear power plants.
We support our customers’ efforts in public acceptance using a variety of instruments. These include both conventional instruments such as press tours, community engagement, construction of information centers, engaging local and social media, and innovative ones such as mobile apps, educational books and multimedia projects.
Q: Can you give us updates over your plans to build a nuclear plant in Jordan?
A: Rosatom won the tender for the construction of an NPP in Jordan in 2013, and since that time we, together with our Jordanian colleagues, have been resolving all project-related issues including technical and financial ones. In the technical area, the only remaining issue to reach sufficient justification for safe operation of the plant was the water supply. However, the main obstacle for the positive investment decision was lack of readiness of Jordan to provide financial conditions required by financial institutions such as sovereign guarantee.
As a result, Jordan made the decision to focus on different projects, such as small capacity plants, that not only require less financing, but also better suit Jordanian conditions. Therefore, together with our Jordanian partners, we have shifted cooperation to exploring the possibility of a small nuclear power plant construction. We are actively negotiating at the moment and hope that we will be able to find feasible solution. At the same time, in case the situation in Jordan changes, we are ready to return to further exploring the large NPP option using the achieved results.