Saudi nuclear reactor raises fears of new arms race
Saudi Arabia has almost completed its first nuclear reactor despite not having secured UN agreements to install nuclear fuel, raising fears of a new Middle Eastern arms race. Satellite pictures of the site at the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology near Riyadh suggest that work is within a year of completion, according to Robert Kelley, a former director of inspections for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.
The plant is being built by the Argentine state-owned company Invap and is further advanced than many analysts expected. Mr Kelley told news agencies that it appeared to bea small research and training reactor, with a ten-metre tube to hold nuclear fuel at its centre.
Separately, the Saudi authorities were said yesterday tobe preparing to issue tenders next year to build their first two nuclear power stations, as they seek to diversify energy supplies.
However, some analysts —as well as Democratic congressmen in the US —fear that Saudi Arabia is planning a nuclear arms race with Iran.
Riyadh was furious at the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran, since abandoned by President Trump, on the grounds that it left Tehran a way to development a nuclear programme. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told the CBS television channel last year: “Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb we will follow suit.”
The Trump administration has approved seven applications for US companies to sell nuclear-related technology to Saudi Arabia, and several are believed to be interested in what would be multibillion-dollar contracts. Russian, South Korean, Chinese and French firms have expressed interest.
Before any nuclear fuel is loaded into either a research or power-generating reactor, a country’s plans are supposed to be cleared with the IAEA. That has not happened in the case of the Riyadh reactor. Mr Kelley said that the Saudi authorities did not seem to have been transparent and had been “very cavalier about modifying their arrangements with the IAEA”.
The US congressional committee on oversight and reform, which is Democrat-led, accused the Trump administration in February of pushing ahead with attempts to transfer nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia against the advice of national security officials.