A nuclear facility outside of Riyadh in Saud Arabia will reportedly be operational within one year.
CNN reported that three months after the Saudi government announced its intention to begin building the facility, satellite photos confirmed that construction on a small experimental reactor is making “expeditious” progress. Former director for nuclear inspections at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Robert Kelley, told CNN that the reactor could be completed in nine months to a year.
The Saudis have been open about their developing nuclear program, reporting it to the IAEA. They began the program in reaction to the initiation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), known commonly as the Iran nuclear deal or Iran deal. The Saudi government stated that they felt the Obama-brokered agreement opened the way for Iran to develop a nuclear weapons program. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said last year that “without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”
The Saudi nuclear program is also intended to replace fossil fuels. Though an oil-rich country, Saudi Arabia consumes roughly one-quarter of its own oil production and their energy needs are expected to triple over the next decade. Saudi Arabia plans to build two more reactors capable of producing 17 gigawatts of nuclear capacity by 2040, enough to provide 15 percent of its power needs. The Saudi kingdom announced earlier this year that it intends to pursue a non-military nuclear program which would include the construction of 16 nuclear power plants over the next quarter century
Saudi Arabia’s plan to produce its own nuclear fuel, an option that has raised concern among some U.S. politicians.
Director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Yukiya Amano, said his agency asked Saudi Arabia to sign the comprehensive safeguards agreement under which it pledges not to use fissile material in the production of weapons. He told reporters on Friday that Saudi Arabia has yet to respond to his request.
“They didn’t say no. They didn’t say yes, and they are now giving it thought. This is where we stand now,” he said.