Does nuclear desalination make sense for Saudi Arabia?

Research article

Desalination, Volume 406 (Special Issue: Desalination and the Environment), 16 March 2017, Pages 37-43 | Noura Youssef Mansouri, Ahmed F. Ghoniem


Water scarcity is a global concern. Due to the limited fresh water resources in the world, seawater desalination is an important technology. Currently, most desalination systems use fossil fuels as their energy source. This presents challenges, such as depleting fuel reserves, fluctuating fuel prices, and the increasing emissions of carbon dioxide that is impacting the environment.

Nuclear power has been used successfully in desalination, and is presented as an alternative option to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. This alternative options is important especially for oil-based countries like Saudi Arabia with the world's largest water desalination market and the world's largest oil reserves.

The country's energy and water sectors are facing two major challenges, such as rising consumption of energy and increasing water demands, this paper explores the economic potential of using nuclear desalination in oil-based Saudi Arabia. The evaluation of the economics of fossil-based and nuclear-based desalination systems were presented considering data previously presented about nuclear desalination in the literature, previous experiences in other countries and the IAEA modelling tool (DEEP). Results of this study are thus expected to be a source of information for policy decisions.


  • Nuclear desalination in Saudi Arabia was examined using DEEP modelling tool.
  • Nine different scenarios for fossil and nuclear-based desalination were presented.
  • The base case resulted in the highest cost and high lifecycle emissions.
  • A nuclear desalination plant using RO is proposed as the most economic design.
  • Nuclear desalination therefore makes economic sense for Saudi Arabia.

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