Iraq is working on a plan to build nuclear reactors as the powerless petro-state seeks to end the widespread blackouts that have sparked social unrest.
OPEC’s second-largest oil producer – already suffering from power shortages and insufficient investment in aging factories – must meet a 50% jump in demand by the end of the decade. The construction of atomic power plants could help close the supply gap, although the country will face significant financial and geopolitical challenges to carry out its plan.
Iraq is seeking to build eight reactors capable of producing around 11 gigawatts, said Kamal Hussain Latif, chairman of the Iraqi Radioactive Sources Regulatory Authority. It would seek funding from potential partners for the $ 40 billion plan and reimburse the costs over 20 years, he said, adding that the authority had discussed cooperation with Russian and South Korean officials.
Falling crude oil prices last year deprived Iraq of funds to maintain and expand its long neglected power system. The resulting blackouts sparked protests that threatened to overthrow the government.
“We have several forecasts which show that without nuclear power by 2030 we will have big problems,” Latif said in an interview with his office in Baghdad. Not only do we have to cope with the electricity shortage and increasing demand, but Iraq is also trying to reduce emissions and produce more water through desalination – “problems that ring the bell. ‘alarm for me’.
Fundraising will be a major task as Iraq has suffered fiscal crises amid volatile oil prices. Even with crude at around $ 70 a barrel right now, the country is just balancing its budget, according to data from the International Monetary Fund.
The government will also need to address geopolitical concerns over atomic energy security, which have thwarted nuclear ambitions elsewhere in the region.
Nuclear power, which does not produce carbon dioxide, would help Gulf states reduce their emissions as governments around the world seek to go greener. The technology would also allow them to allocate more of their precious hydrocarbons to export. Saudi Arabia, which is building a test reactor, burns up to 1 million barrels of crude a day in power plants during its summer months when temperatures exceed 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).
Iraqi cabinet is examining deal with Russian firm Rosatom Corp. to cooperate in building reactors, Latif said. South Korean officials said this year they wanted to help build the power plants and offered the Iraqis a tour of the reactors in the United Arab Emirates run by Korea Electric Power Corp. Latif said the nuclear authority has also spoken to French and US officials about the plan.
Kepco, as the Korean power producer is called, is not aware of Iraq’s nuclear plans and has not been in contact with Iraqi officials or been invited to work on projects there. low, a company spokesperson said on Tuesday. Rosatom did not immediately comment when asked about a deal with Iraq.
Even if Iraq builds the planned number of power plants, it will still not be enough to cover future consumption. The country already faces a 10 gigawatt gap between capacity and demand and expects to need an additional 14 gigawatts this decade, Latif said.
With that in mind, Iraq plans to build enough solar power plants to generate an amount of power similar to the nuclear program by the end of the decade.
Iraq currently has 18.4 gigawatts of electricity, including 1.2 gigawatts imported from Iran. The capacity additions mean production will reach up to 22 gigawatts by August, but that’s well below theoretical demand which stands at nearly 28 gigawatts under normal conditions. Maximum usage during the scorching months of July and August exceeds 30 gigawatts, according to the Department of Electricity. Demand will reach 42 gigawatts by 2030, Latif said.
The nuclear authority has selected 20 potential sites for the reactors and Latif has suggested that the first contracts could be signed next year.
This will not be Iraq’s first attempt to go nuclear. Four decades ago, an Israeli airstrike destroyed a reactor under construction south of Baghdad. The Israelis alleged that the facility, called Osirak, was aimed at producing nuclear weapons to be used against them. Iraq suffered more than a decade of violence and upheaval after the 2003 US invasion, which was also prompted by allegations that Iraq wanted to develop weapons.
(Updates with Kepco’s comment in 10th paragraph.)
–With help from Dina Khrennikova, Olga Tanas and Heesu Lee.