Among the most underreported but explosive stories of the past six months has been growing signs of Saudi Arabia’s nuclear ambitions. But now there are new questions over whether the kingdom’s future planned two nuclear power reactors will be limited to purely energy-related and peaceful purposes.
On Monday the kingdom’s nuclear energy minister said Saudi Arabia wants to enrich uranium for its nuclear power program, Reuters reports — an announcement likely to hinder talks with Washington over American companies’ potential help in establishing its atomic energy program.
“The world’s top oil exporter says it wants to use nuclear power to diversify its energy mix, but enrichment also opens up the possibility of military uses of uranium,” Reuters noted.
“We are proceeding with it cautiously… we are experimenting with two nuclear reactors,” Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman said in reference to a proposed plan to issue a tender for the country’s first nuclear reactors, preliminary talks of which are underway for the multi-billion-dollar project.
Reactors even for peaceful energy purposes require that uranium be enriched to around 5% purity, but once the technology is in place, it becomes ease to go beyond that. As Reuters describes:
Reuters has reported that progress on the discussions has been difficult because Saudi Arabia does not want to sign a deal that would rule out the possibility of enriching uranium or reprocessing spent fuel – both potential paths to a bomb.
International concerns about the dual technology helped lead to the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and global powers. Under the deal Iran can enrich uranium to around the normal level needed for commercial power production.
In April, American lawmakers voiced alarm over the kingdom’s possibly secretly pursuing nuclear weapons and questioned the US Department of Energy over the degree to which they’ve already received any level of assistance from the United States.
This after in November of last year crown prince Mohammed bin Salman said, “if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”
MBS (who architected Khashoggi’s murder) wants US nuclear☢️ technology BUT doesn’t want intrusive inspections to prove the peaceful nature of the program.
A country that can’t be trusted with a bone saw should NOT be trusted with nuclear weapons.
— Rula Jebreal (@rulajebreal) November 23, 2018
At that time a letter sent from a bipartisan group of senators to the Trump administration said “Many in Congress, therefore, worry that Saudi Arabia’s interest in someday producing its own stocks of nuclear fuel – despite the fact the Kingdom could purchase fuel on the international market more cheaply – could lead to it to divert fuel to a covert nuclear weapons program.”
There’s continuing suspicion that the Energy Dept. under Rick Perry has already allowed US companies to share sensitive nuclear information with the Saudis without appropriate congressional oversight and restrictions.