Saudi Arabia says still examining options for nuclear power plants

VIENNA, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia said on Monday it was still undertaking feasibility studies before deciding how and where to build its first nuclear power stations.

Industry sources said last week that Saudi Arabia was expected to launch a tendering process for its first nuclear reactors as early as next month and would contact potential vendors from a number of countries including South Korea, France and China.

The sources said the world’s top oil exporter wants to start construction next year on two nuclear power plants with a total electricity generating capacity of up to 2.8 gigawatts, as it follows Gulf neighbour the United Arab Emirates in seeking to produce atomic energy.

“We are carrying out feasibility studies, technically and economically to build those nuclear reactors ... in addition to detailed technical studies for the selection of the best locations,” said Hashim bin Abdullah Yamani, president of the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE).

He told the annual general conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna that Saudi Arabia had teamed up with South Korean partners to locally build reactors which can function in remote areas without links to power grids.

“In addition we have a cooperation with the government of China in order to develop the high-temperature, gas-cooled reactors which also can be used in non-power applications in industries, petrochemicals and water desalination,” he said.

Yamani said that the Kingdom would have an independent body to supervise its nuclear industry by the third quarter of 2018, based on experience drawn from the Finnish atomic watchdog STUK.

The third pillar of the Saudi push into atomic energy will be based on the exploration and mining of uranium with a view to eventually reaching self-sufficiency in nuclear fuel production, he said.

The nuclear plants are part of long-standing plans to diversify the OPEC member’s energy supply and has received extra momentum as part of its Vision 2030, a sweeping reform programme launched last year by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi Arabia is considering building 17.6 gigawatts of nuclear-powered electricity generating capacity by 2032, KACARE says on its website. (Reporting By Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Greg Mahlich)