Saudis to ex­tract ura­nium for ‘self-suf­fi­cient’ nuke pro­gram

A key step to­ward ‘self-suf­fi­ciency’ in pro­duc­ing atomic fuel Iran skips Abu Dhabi con­fer­ence

Kuwait Times - - Front Page -

ABU DHABI: 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 yes­ter­day. 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. Mean­while, Iran’s nu­clear deal with world pow­ers may hang in the bal­ance, but you wouldn’t know it at the United Na­tions con­fer­ence on atomic en­ergy held yes­ter­day in the United Arab Emi­rates.

Iran de­cided to skip the Abu Dhabi con­fer­ence, leav­ing its seats empty as Yukiya Amano, the head of the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency, avoided speak­ing about the nu­clear deal at all in his ad­dress at the venue. Of­fi­cials at the Atomic En­ergy Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Iran did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment. Ira­nian For­eign Min­istry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said he had “no in­for­ma­tion” on the de­ci­sion. At a later news con­fer­ence, Amano him­self de­clined to dis­cuss it.

Peace­ful pur­poses

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. This is­sue has been at the heart of Western and re­gional con­cerns about the nu­clear work of Iran, Saudi Ara­bia’s foe, and led to the 2015 deal in which Iran agreed to freeze the pro­gram for 15 years for sanc­tions re­lief.

Yes­ter­day, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said Iran was com­ply­ing with the nu­clear deal signed with world pow­ers and which US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has called into ques­tion. Un­der the agree­ment, Iran can en­rich ura­nium to 3.67 per­cent pu­rity, around the nor­mal level needed for com­mer­cial pow­er­gen­er­a­tion.

Mo­men­tum

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 Kore­an­built 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.

Ya­mani said Saudi Ara­bia will soon pass laws for its nu­clear pro­gram and will have set up all of the reg­u­la­tions for its nu­clear reg­u­la­tor by the third quar­ter of 2018. “The IAEA also has been re­quested to con­duct an in­te­grated re­view of our nu­clear in­fra­struc­ture dur­ing the sec­ond quar­ter of 2018,” he said, which will al­low the agency to as­sess ef­forts to pre­pare Saudi in­fra­struc­ture “to in­tro­duce nu­clear power for peace­ful pur­poses.” Saudi Ara­bia is con­sid­er­ing build­ing some 17.6 gi­gawatts of nu­clear ca­pac­ity by 2032, the equiv­a­lent of about 17 re­ac­tors, mak­ing it one of the strong­est prospects for an in­dus­try strug­gling after the 2011 nu­clear dis­as­ter in Ja­pan. Pre­lim­i­nary stud­ies have es­ti­mated Saudi Ara­bia has around 60,000 tons of ura­nium ore, Ma­her al Odan, the chief atomic en­ergy of­fi­cer of KACARE said at an elec­tric­ity fo­rum in Riyadh on Oct 11. — Agen­cies

ABU DHABI: Wil­liam D Mag­wood, IV, Di­rec­tor Gen­eral, Nu­clear En­ergy Agency of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment (OECD-NEA) speaks dur­ing the Nu­clear Power in the 21st Cen­tury In­ter­na­tional Min­is­te­rial con­fer­ence in Abu Dhabi yes­ter­day. — AFP

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