Saudi Arabia has the ninth highest ambient air pollution in the world, and power demand is growing by 7 to 9 percent annually, raising the prospect of even more fossil fuel-driven pollution.Preserving crude for export rather than consumption would also protect crucial revenues.Nuclear has been traditionally limited to the world’s wealthiest nations because today’s reactors have high upfront costs and generate far too much power for smaller electricity grids.
Next year, Saudi Arabia will hand out contracts for two nuclear reactors, the first of sixteen overall that Riyadh plans to construct by 2040.
The Kingdom has its own reasons, including those previously discussed, in pursuing clean energy options like commercial nuclear.
To begin the task, the White House should turn to Saudi Arabia, which is looking to develop its own nuclear energy program.
We’ve collected a series of essays and articles exploring nuclear’s growth in the developing world, the commercial and national security concerns connected to Russia and China’s growing control, and policy options for the current administration to revitalize America’s domestic nuclear industry without sacrificing safety and security.
The United States, which used to lead in nuclear technology exports, has fallen behind because of restrictive export regulations.
To get back in the game—and secure economic and security advantages that the growing export market presents—the United States should simplify export controls and invest in innovative nuclear technologies.In fact, the risks are already evident (see Sagatom Saha’s 2017 Foreign Affairs essay exploring Budapest’s growing affinity for Moscow, a shift underpinned by nuclear exports).Now China is taking steps to expand its nuclear exports.Saudi Arabia should be concerned that warming in the Middle East is expected to exceed twice the world average, potentially making the region uninhabitable into the midcentury and accelerating the impetus for reducing electric power emissions.Still, it would be unwise to take Riyadh at its word that its nuclear program would be a purely peaceful endeavor.The 46 most polluted countries and the 146 cities with the worst air quality are all in the developing world.[...] While China and India expectedly dominate the list, countries in the Gulf, Southeast Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa also populate it.By offering favorable financing from Moscow, Rosatom is able to significantly lower costs to countries interested in building reactors, while developing strategic leverage over a country’s economy and energy systems.Russia has a habit of “wielding energy as a geopolitical weapon,” as a recent Economist article explores.In particular, the United States should promote innovation in its advanced nuclear designs. To avoid falling behind, the United States will have to support the development of these technologies, including small modular reactors (SMRs), which may prove more resistant to meltdowns and cheaper to operate.Supplying Saudi America already has a significant opportunity to get back in the nuclear game—one of its allies could provide a credible chance for U. suppliers to re-establish themselves in the market.