Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced during a visit to Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology on Monday his plans to build his country’s first nuclear research reactor.
Construction of the reactor is already underway and expected to be completed by the end of next year. It will follow all the safety standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The reactor will use uranium oxide fuel with 2.1 percent enrichment.
Saudi Arabia is the world’s largest exporter of crude oil and the country with the largest amount of oil reserves. The country is responsible for 15.9 percent of global oil exports in 2017, totaling $133.6 billion in value. Saudi Arabia’s domestic energy needs for their population and for desalination of water is growing. They are looking to nuclear energy to diversify their energy sources. According to Reuters news agency, Saudi Arabia hopes to reduce the amount of oil and natural gas it uses for domestic needs in order to allow it to sell more of it overseas.
The Kingdom plans to build two full nuclear power reactors for energy and as many as 16 over the next 25 years, making it one of the biggest nuclear projects being pursued in the world today. If the plan is realized, it will make Saudi Arabia the second Gulf Arab state to launch a nuclear power project after the United Arab Emirates, which is building four South Korean-designed reactors.
The announcement does not come as a complete surprise. Last year, the International Atomic Energy Agency revealed that the Saudi government invited proposals for the construction of two nuclear power reactors.
Their moves to develop a nuclear program come in response to the Iranian nuclear program. The Saudi Arabian government is at odds with Iran and has been skeptical of Iran’s compliance with the nuclear deal they signed in 2015 intended to delay their nuclear weapons program. Prince Mohammed said in March that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, his country will do so as well.
“Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb, but without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible,” he told a CBS in an interview.
Prince Mohammed was vocally supportive of President Trump’s decision in May to withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and to reimpose economic sanctions.
The reactor will be used for research and not to generate electricity. The prince also announced plans to launch six other strategic projects in renewable energy, water desalination, genetic medicine, and the aircraft industry