ABU DHABI (Reuters) — Saudi Arabia plans to extract uranium domestically as part of its nuclear power program and sees this as a step towards “self-sufficiency” in producing atomic fuel, a senior official said on Monday.
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).
In a speech at an international nuclear power conference in Abu Dhabi, he did not specify whether Saudi Arabia seeks to also enrich and reprocess uranium—steps in the fuel cycle which are especially sensitive as they can open up the possibility of military uses of the material.
The world’s top oil exporter says it wants to tap atomic power for peaceful purposes only in order to diversify its energy supply and will award a construction contract for its first two nuclear reactors by the end of 2018.
“Regarding the production of uranium in the kingdom, this is a program which is our first step towards self-sufficiency in producing nuclear fuel,” Yamani told a conference organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). “We utilize the uranium ore that has been proven to be economically efficient.”
Atomic reactors need uranium enriched to around 5 percent purity but the same technology in this process can also be used to enrich the heavy metal to higher, weapons-grade levels.
Saudi Arabia would be the second country in the Gulf Arab region to tap nuclear after the United Arab Emirates, 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.
Industry sources have told Reuters Saudi Arabia is reaching out to potential vendors from South Korea, China, France, Russia, Japan, and the United States for its first two reactors.
The plans have received extra momentum as part of Saudi Arabia‘s Vision 2030, an ambitious economic reform program launched last year by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
Full article: Saudi Arabia to Extract Uranium for ‘Self-Sufficient’ Nuclear Program (Washington Free Beacon)