Riyadh wants to mine uranium ore to strengthen its nuclear programme

For the Saudis, this will lead to self-sufficiency. The goal is to diversify energy supplies. Contracts will be tendered by the end of 2018 for the first two reactors. For IAEA, Iran continues to fulfil its obligations under the nuclear agreement.

Riyadh (AsiaNews) – Saudi Arabia plans to extract uranium domestically as part of its nuclear power programme to reduce reliance on oil. For Saudi leaders, this will lead to “self-sufficiency” in producing atomic fuel for civilian use, like its main regional rival Iran.

Extracting its own uranium also makes sense from an economic point of view, said Hashim bin Abdullah Yamani, head of the Saudi government agency tasked with the nuclear plans, the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE).

The goal is to use atomic power for civilian purposes to diversify the kingdom’s domestic energy supply. “We [will] utilise the uranium ore that has been proven to be economically efficient,” Yamani said.

Construction contracts for the first two nuclear reactors should be awarded by the end of 2018. Industry sources are saying that Saudi Arabia is reaching out to potential vendors from South Korea, China, France, Russia, Japan and the US.

Atomic reactors need uranium enriched to around 5 per cent purity, but the same technology can also be used to enrich the heavy metal to higher, weapons-grade levels.

Saudi Arabia would be the second country in the Arab Gulf region to turn to nuclear after the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is set to start up its first, South Korean-built reactor in 2018. The UAE has committed not to enrich uranium itself and not to reprocess spent fuel.

Riyadh’s nuclear plans have received extra momentum as part of the country’s ambitious ‘Vision 2030’ economic reform programme launched last year by 32-year-old Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Reforms include allowing women to drive and go to stadiums, as well as promoting an open and moderate Islam.

With this in mind, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will be asked to conduct an integrated review of Saudi Arabia’s nuclear infrastructure and assess efforts to prepare its infrastructure “to introduce nuclear power for peaceful purposes”.

Meanwhile, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano has recently confirmed that Iran is living up to all its obligations under the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“All those involved in the JCPOA are honouring their commitments," he said in Tehran Sunday at a press conference.

Eight IAEA reports have confirmed Iran's full commitment to its side of the bargain since January 2016 when the agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group (United States, United Kingdom, France, China, Russia+Germany) went into effect.

"Amano is aware of Iran's honesty and adherence to its obligations under the JCPOA and knows that we have not infringed or violated our tasks regarding nuclear issues," said Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI).

However, US President Donald Trump has recently disavowed the agreement, calling on the US Congress to vote new sanctions against Iran and threatening to terminate the deal.