Saudi Arabia is Developing its Ambitious Nuclear Energy
Saudi Arabia is actively working to develop peaceful uses of nuclear energy in various fields in close cooperation with the IAEA, says Saudi Minister of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman. He told the 67th General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Austria that the kingdom is adhering to international best practices and experiences.
Saudi Arabia’s interest in nuclear power technology and energy goes back to 2010. It believes development of atomic energy is essential to meet the country’s growing requirements for energy to generate electricity, produce desalinated water and reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Saudi Arabia sees nuclear as an important source of zero-emissions electricity.
However, the US has been hesitant in sharing nuclear power technology with the Kingdom. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been pushing the US for access to uranium enrichment technology in an effort to provide fuel for future Saudi nuclear power plants. In a 2018 interview, Mohammed bin Salman said Saudi Arabia doesn’t want any nuclear bomb. “But without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit.”
Saudi Arabia Nuclear Ambitions
The Crown Prince said he wants to use domestic uranium to fuel civilian nuclear power reactors. The Kingdom wants to produce fuel domestically, thus the need for enrichment technology. Putting fears aside, the Saudi Minister of Energy said they are looking forward to operating a regional cooperation center with the IAEA to develop human capabilities in the areas of preparedness, response to radiological and nuclear emergencies, as well as regulatory aspects at national, regional and international levels.
Prince Abdulaziz said Saudi Arabia emphasizes the importance of concerted international efforts to implement the provisions of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, reaffirming the significance of countering nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.
The minister also affirmed their inherent right to benefit from peaceful nuclear technology, including nuclear fuel cycle, and to reap benefits from natural resources of uranium ores under the relevant international treaties and agreements.
Israel Uncomfortable with a Nuclear-powered Saudi Arabia
Yair Lapid, the leader of opposition in Israel, recently told US lawmakers that Saudi Arabia’s ambitions to enrich uranium would harm Israel’s security. He believes it would push the Kingdom to acquire nuclear weapons.
But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told nuclear and security experts in Israel to work with the United States on a proposal for a US-run uranium enrichment operation in Saudi Arabia in an effort for normalization of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Lapid fears Saudi Arabia could trigger a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. “The Saudi crown prince already spoke about the possibility of Saudi Arabia having nuclear weapons. All his life, Netanyahu fought precisely against such moves. These are the foundations of our nuclear strategy.”