Saudi Arabia wants to enrich uranium for nuclear power
ABU DHABI (Agencies) – Saudi Arabia is seeking uranium production and enrichment for its planned nuclear power program, the kingdom’s new Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said on Monday.
“We are proceeding with it cautiously… We are experimenting with two nuclear reactors,” he said in Abu Dhabi while attending the 24th World Energy Congress.
The prince, appointed to the energy post over the weekend, said Saudi Arabia wants to go ahead with the full cycle of the nuclear program, including the production and enrichment of uranium for fuel for the purpose of power production.
With the aim of reducing the kingdom’s dependence on fossil fuel, the minister said the country wants to tap nuclear technology for peaceful uses.
In January, Khalid bin Saleh Al-Sultan, president of King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, said that the kingdom had received offers to build two atomic reactors from five countries, the US, China, Russia, France and South Korea, at cost averaging around $7 billion.
The kingdom also plans to produce 3.45 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2020.
Abdulaziz bin Salman was appointed energy minister on Sunday by royal decree, becoming the first royal ever to hold the position.
US lawmakers recently voiced concerns over Riyadh’s pursuit of nuclear technology, saying US financing via the US Export-Import Bank for the transfer of nuclear technology to the kingdom should be contingent on a commitment from the Saudis not to engage in uranium enrichment.
Last month, US Secretary of Energy Rick Perry indicated that Washington would have to assist Saudi Arabia with its nuclear ambitions, since the alternative would be having “the Russians” or “the Chinese,” who allegedly “have zero interest in non-proliferation,” helping Riyadh. Perry promised that the US would be looking to reach a “very strong” agreement with Saudi Arabia to ensure US interests are safe-guarded.
Under US nuclear technology transfer standards adopted in 1954, recipient countries must adopt a so-called “gold standard” of regulations designed to ensure the non-proliferation of nuclear weaponry and the peaceful use of nuclear technology, complete with inspections by the UN’s nuclear watchdog. Riyadh has so far refused to adopt the standard, with this factor becoming a stumbling block in negotiations.
In April, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned that Washington would “never” allow Saudi Arabia to become a nuclear power, saying such a development would threaten its own security and that of Israel.
Riyadh has sought to build nuclear power plants as a means to diversify its power-generation capabilities and to move away from dependence on fossil fuels under its “Vision 2030” programme, but has made no indication that it would seek to pursue nuclear weapons.
Earlier this year, US nuclear specialists told media that the country was close to completing the construction of its first nuclear reactor at the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology facility in Riyadh. According to former International Atomic Energy Agency director Robert Kelley, the 30-kilowatt research reactor would be prepared for operations within a year’s time. The reactor was said to have been designed by an Argentinian company, but completed by Saudi specialists.
Along with Saudi Arabia, several other countries in the Middle East are pursuing peaceful nuclear power technology, including the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait.
The idea of countries in the region having access to nuclear technology has been frought with risks, with Israel, which is thought to have a nuclear weapons programme despite not using the technology for power generation, bombing an Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981, and attacking and destroying a Syrian facility suspected of being a nuclear reactor in 2007.