Bechtel Group is “very interested” in Saudi Arabia’s idea for a civilian nuclear programme and is discussing main roles for the company.
“This kind of work is right in our sweet spot,” CEO Brendan Bechtel stated on Tuesday in an interview in Riyadh, where the San Francisco-based engineering and construction company is celebrating its 75th anniversary of doing business in Saudi Arabia.
“It’s going to be highly competitive and there are multiple solutions from different nation-states competing. The US is going to need to be competitive to secure a role.”
Saudi Arabia is considering operating with companies from different countries including the US and South Korea as it expects to construct as many as 16 nuclear reactors in the kingdom. The Trump administration is in talks with the Saudi government, keen to expand a lifeline to Westinghouse Electric, Exelon and other US companies hurt by a domestic downturn in nuclear power plant construction.
Bechtel said, “It would be a pretty sad day for the US-Saudi relationship if the team USA solution was not successful.” He also said, “If it’s going to happen, we should be part of helping our allies develop a peaceful civilian nuclear program.”
One main wrinkle is whether any agreement with Saudi Arabia would incorporate a so-called gold-standard clause, which allows power generation but would bar the enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear fuel and waste.
The United Arab Emirates has made such a modification, but the Trump administration has examined potential contracts with the kingdom that do not incorporate the prohibition. The issue was further soiled in March when Crown Prince Mohammed b in Salman told the kingdom would spread a nuclear weapon if Iran did.
Bechtel is in discussions with the Saudi government’s King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, and the tender process is “moving pretty fast,” Bechtel stated. Saudi officials have mentioned that they expect to sign contracts to develop the first two reactors by the end of 2018. Bechtel is presently working on a transit project in the Saudi capital and is assisting support Mashroat, the government’s new National Project Management Organization.
The company is also interested in Neom, a futuristic city that Prince Mohammed aims to develop from scratch in the desert. Analysts have put forth questions about its possibility in a country where last efforts to develop new cities have struggled to get off the ground.
“We stand ready to help” with the $500 billion project, Bechtel stated. “Nothing has ever been attempted at this level before.”
Bechtel is also in discussions with Saudi authorities about master plans for the mining industry, one of the industries the government aims to develop more under Prince Mohammed’s “Vision 2030” plan to diversify the economy away from oil.”
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