GE-Hitachi Venture to Pursue Nuclear Contracts in Saudi Arabia

A venture between General Electric Co. and Hitachi Ltd. plans to pursue contracts in Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest oil supplier develops an atomic program to meet rising power demand.

“Nuclear is part of a natural progression for us to work with Saudi Arabia,” Daniel Roderick, senior vice president at GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy, said in a telephone interview in Riyadh today. “We want to work with the Saudi government on developing their program in the most efficient way.”

Saudi Arabia is turning to atomic energy to save oil reserves for overseas sales as economic expansion boosts power demand by 8 percent a year. GE is among companies seeking opportunities in the fledgling nuclear program after the U.S. agreed in 2008 to help the kingdom develop the industry.

Shaw Group, Toshiba Corp. and Exelon Nuclear Partners, a unit of Exelon Corp., said in July that they teamed up to pursue nuclear power contracts in Saudi Arabia. The group wants to provide engineering, procurement, construction and operations for nuclear power plants.

A delegation of 11 U.S. companies led by Francisco Sanchez, the undersecretary for international trade at the U.S. Department of Commerce, visited the kingdom this month to explore investment opportunities, including in nuclear power. Companies on the delegation included Shaw Group and Fairfield, Connecticut-based GE.

Saudi Arabia announced in April the construction of King Abdullah City for Nuclear and Renewable Energy in Riyadh.

Nuclear Gulf

The kingdom is one of several Persian Gulf countries seeking to develop nuclear energy. The United Arab Emirates awarded a $20 billion contract in December 2009 to a group led by Korea Electric Power Corp. to build four nuclear plants, and Kuwait plans to build four reactors by 2022.

“The entire Middle East has a very good market, especially for nuclear as well as other energy products,” said Roderick, who is also pursuing atomic contracts in India. “The Middle East region and nuclear is something that we are very interested in supporting.”

Saudi Arabia plans to join the Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage, the official Saudi Press Agency reported in November.

In April, Kuwait and France signed a nuclear cooperation treaty, which may allow Areva SA, the world’s biggest maker of nuclear reactors, to export nuclear technology to the country.

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