While a growing number of countries have announced their civilian nuclear energy ambitions over the past twelve months, it is likely that no other country has a greater psychological impact on the nuclear energy landscape than Saudi Arabia. We believe that the Kingdom’s water and natural gas problems will lead them to nuclear power, sooner rather than later, probably as early as this year.
After our interview with Kevin Bambrough, which resulted in the widely read article “Explosion in Nuclear Energy Demand Coming,” we began to dig deeper into Bambrough’s conclusion. He believes that the overwhelming growth in nuclear power will continue to drive the uranium bull market much higher. He believes that the uranium renaissance has gone beyond mere mining inventory shortages. We investigated this further during the course of our uranium and geopolitics investigation. We were amazed at what we found and continue to be amazed at how accurate Mr. Bambrough’s forecast is likely to play out. We include the special subsection, which follows, in our next publication, A Practical Guide for Investors on Uranium Stocks. Below is a sneak peek.
An April 2006 UPI news story confirmed what many had long believed. It won’t be long before Saudi Arabia launches a nuclear project. Kuwaiti researcher Abdullah al-Nufaisi told seminar attendees in Qatar that Saudi Arabia is preparing a nuclear program. He said Saudi scientists were urging the government to launch a nuclear project, but had not yet received the blessing of the royal family. Social problems, not energy, could help Saudi royalty embark on a large-scale nuclear program.
Of the 24 million subjects in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, more than 40 percent are under the age of 18. While still manageable, the country’s infrastructure is not ready to cope with its explosive population growth. The two biggest problems Saudi Arabia is facing are potential shortages of water and electricity. It is true that its super oil fields may also have peaked in production and could move into a tertiary recovery, but that is unknown. An Islamic revolution, similar to the one that Iran underwent in the 1970s, is probably the most important thing on the King’s mind. Civil unrest could ensue if your subjects suffered from lack of electricity and inadequate water supply. Just look at the widespread electricity shortages that Syria experienced in the 1980s and early 1990s.
As reported in the October 14, 2004 issue of Arab Oil and Gas, the Saudis lag far behind Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates in per capita energy consumption. The rate of consumption of natural gas, which produces electricity in Saudi Arabia, increased less than in Egypt and Syria. Total energy consumption fell by 3.5 percent in 1999 and 2000.
The internationally announced “Gas Initiative” of 1998 was the Kingdom’s attempt to attract major Western oil companies back to the country to help develop its natural gas reserves. After major oil companies spent $ 100 million on due diligence to assess Saudi Arabia’s natural gas reserves, the initiative quietly disappeared from the global radar screen. An executive at Shell Oil, whose company is exploring gas in the country’s Empty Quarter, told Bloomberg Daily Energy News that it was a high-risk venture with a low probability of finding significant reserves. In Matthew Simmons’ Desert Twilight, he repeated what an anonymous top oil executive told him: “The reservoirs are horrible.”
The Saudis need water and electricity to match their population growth. Nuclear power is likely to be the solution to both problems. Continued dependence on natural gas can prove a fatal economic and social mistake for the royal family. Our research predicts that the Saudis should announce a large-scale civilian nuclear power program in the near future.
Let’s first look at the water problem. In a 2002 story published in the Oil & Gas Journal, Saudi Arabia’s 30 desalination plants produce about 21 percent of the world’s total desalinated water production. Almost 70 percent of the local water drunk in cities comes from desalinated seawater. As the population grows, Saudi Arabia may spend another $ 40 billion to build more desalination plants.
Half of the world’s desalination plants are in the Middle East. Most run on fossil fuels, especially natural gas. Converting seawater into drinking water requires a lot of energy. The commonly used multi-stage flash distillation (MSF) method of steam desalination requires heat from 70 to 130 degrees Celsius and consumes up to 200 kilowatt hours of electricity for every cubic meter of water (approximately 264 gallons). MSF is the most popular technology, but some are turning to reverse osmosis (RO). RO consumes about 6 kilowatt hours of electricity for every cubic meter of water.
Desalination is very expensive. The cost of generating this electricity through natural gas explains why Saudi Arabia spends around $ 4 billion on annual operating and maintenance costs.
There are numerous precedents in the combination of water desalination with nuclear energy for electricity generation. The World Nuclear Association highlights the BN-350 fast reactor in Kazakhstan, which has produced 135 MWe of electricity and 80,000 cubic meters per day of potable water for almost 30 years. In Japan, ten desalination plants are connected to pressurized water reactors that produce electricity. The International Atomic Energy Agency is working closely with some 20 countries to implement dual-use nuclear reactors, which would also desalinate water.
According to the website of the World Nuclear Association, “Small and medium nuclear reactors are suitable for desalination, often with cogeneration of electricity using low pressure steam from the turbine and warm seawater fed by the final cooling system. The main opportunities for nuclear power plants have been identified in the ranges of 80-100,000 m3 / day and 200-500,000 m3 / day. “
There are numerous examples of nuclear desalination that are being considered. In 1977, Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant was also to have an MSF desalination plant of 200,000 cubic meters / day. Construction delays and the subsequent Islamic revolution prevented this from happening. Perhaps when Iran begins its civilian nuclear program, the desalination plant will be reactivated. China is reviewing the feasibility of a nuclear seawater desalination plant in the Yantai area. Russia has advanced a nuclear desalination project with barge-mounted marine reactors using Canadian reverse osmosis technology. India has started operating a nuclear desalination demonstration plant at the Madras Atomic Power Station in southeastern India. Another could soon follow in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, which is perpetually short of water. Pakistan continues its efforts to establish a demonstration desalination plant. South Korea has developed a small nuclear reactor design for the cogeneration of electricity and water. It can first be tested on Madura Island in Indonesia. Argentina has also developed a small nuclear reactor design for electrical cogeneration or solely for desalination.
The Saudis have researched dual use for nearly thirty years. Since 1978, Saudi scientists have studied nuclear desalination plants in Kazakhstan and Japan. Both studies positively evaluated the feasibility of bringing the first dual-use nuclear reactor to Saudi Arabia. Since the mid-1980s, scientists and researchers from the Saudi Arabian Department of Nuclear Engineering at King Abdulaziz University, the Faculty of Engineering at Riyadh University, the Department of Chemical Engineering at King Saud University and the Research Institute Atomic Energy have investigated and evaluated nuclear desalination. . Saudi scientists presented their work, entitled ‘Role of Nuclear Desalination in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’, at the First International Conference on Nuclear Desalination in Morocco in October 2002.
The country has a tandetron accelerator and a cyclotron capable of producing isotopes for medical purposes. Saudi Arabian nuclear scientists have engaged with many countries to help their country develop a bona fide nuclear power program. In late March 2006, a German magazine reported that Saudi Arabia had been secretly working on a nuclear program with the help of Pakistani scientists. Ironically, many believe that Saudi Arabia helped finance Pakistan’s nuclear program. Because Saudi scientists lack the proven experience of the entire nuclear fuel cycle, Pakistan’s experience over the past decade could help accelerate the Kingdom’s quest for a civilian nuclear program.
While lacking proven uranium deposits, the Tabuk region of the country has quantities of low-grade uranium and thorium. However, Saudi Arabia has significant phosphate deposits, which some believe could be exploited. The two largest deposits in the country are reported to measure around 750 million metric tons, averaging 19-21 percent P2O5. Fertilizer plants in the industrial city of Al Jubail, mined by the Saudi Arabian Mining Company and the Saudi Arabian Basic Industrial Corporation, produce around 4.5 metric tons of P2O5 per year. While mining uranium from phosphates can be an expensive proposition, phosphates could provide an immediate supply of uranium for the country’s nuclear desalination plants. So it would be a matter of uranium enrichment, of which both the Russians and the French would be fighting to provide the Kingdom.
While the Saudi program may not have a direct impact on world uranium prices, the Kingdom’s decision to advance its nuclear program, beyond the medical and research stage, would signal to the entire world that nuclear energy programs will be a primary growth sector for the next fifty to one hundred years. years. If the Saudis also started desalination projects using dual-use nuclear reactors, this could change the whole picture of the water situation in the Middle East and Africa. And most likely, it will cause a significant stampede from the Kingdom’s neighbors towards a global nuclear renaissance.
COPYRIGHT © 2007 by StockInterview, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.