MENA 'faces challenges' with nuclear strategy

21 August 2018

The Middle East will add 15.8 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear power capability by 2030 but the region may not be fully equipped for such swift development, according to a report.

The region currently produces only 1GW of its power via nuclear, but rising electricity demand and the desire to reduce carbon footprints has prompted several MENA countries to diversify their energy sources moving forward.

The report, by the Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation (APICORP), said that for the Gulf states, nuclear power had the added advantage of freeing up more oil and gas for exports.

Meanwhile, for net importers like Egypt and Jordan, nuclear provided an opportunity to diversify their energy sources and reduce import bills.

At present, 2.4GW of nuclear power facilities in the MENA region are complete, with only 1GW operational. But with 5.4GW under construction and a further 8GW planned by 2030, the region looks set to expand its nuclear output exponentially.

The report warned, however, that delays in commissioning the Barakah nuclear plant in the UAE may point to a wider problem, which is that the region is not fully equipped with the expertise to run nuclear plants on a large scale.

It highlighted that dependence on Russia to develop nuclear projects left the region “exposed to a single supplier,” while “huge capital costs” were leading Jordan and Saudi Arabia to lean towards small-scale alternatives which were more costly to build per kilowatt of electricity. 

Meanwhile, the report added, renewed US trade sanctions on Iran would overall slow the momentum on nuclear energy deployment within MENA.

“Governments considering developing nuclear power must budget for high initial investment costs, potential delays and cost overruns,” the report said. 

“At a time when governments are rationalising spending, nuclear will trail behind conventional and renewable sources for the near future. Low credit ratings also make it difficult for some MENA governments to access cheap finance. This will mean that countries will look to smaller scale reactors that cannot meet the capacity needs in line with rising electricity demand,” it added.

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