The United States is not Saudi Arabia’s only option when it comes to developing nuclear energy projects, Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said during Crown Prince Mohammed’s two-week visit in the U.S.
Reuters quoted the official as saying that if the United States declined to help the Kingdom develop its nuclear power industry, it would lose an opportunity to “influence the programme in a positive way.” This, however, would not stop the Saudis from tapping uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing technology: besides the United States., Riyadh is also in talks with companies from Russia, China, South Korea, and others.
Cooperation with the United States in the field of nuclear power is only possible for countries that sign the so-called 123 agreement, which stipulates a clear distinction between using nuclear technology for civil and for military purposes, and binds the signee to utilizing the technology for civil purposes only.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry has been negotiating a possible nuclear deal with Saudi Arabia, but it seems the Kingdom is unwilling to sign the 123 agreement for reasons that until recently remained undisclosed. This weekend, however, Crown Prince Mohammed admitted in an interview for CBS that Saudi Arabia is not averse to developing nuclear weapons if it gets a whiff about Iran doing the same. Related: U.S. Electricity Sales Fall Again
“Saudi Arabia does not want to acquire any nuclear bomb,” Mohammed told CBS’ Norah O’Donnell, “but without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.”
The Kingdom’s nuclear plan seeks the construction of 16 nuclear reactors within the next 20-25 years, for a total cost of over US$80 billion. The aim is to reduce the domestic consumption of crude oil, so more of it can be exported. Saudi Arabia currently uses about 25 percent of its oil production domestically but demand for electricity is booming.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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If the United States insists that Saudi Arabia signs the so-called 123 agreement, which binds the signee to utilizing the technology for civil purposes only, then Saudi Arabia will look for other countries from which to get assistance and nuclear technology such as Russia, China, South Korea, France and others. South Korea is already helping build nuclear reactors in the UAE.
Still, Saudi Arabia might not be averse to acquiring nuclear weapons but only if Iran gets them. Saudi leaders are on record saying that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, then Saudi Arabia will too.
However, the difference between Iran’s and Saudi Arabia’s nuclear ambitions is that Iran has had an ongoing nuclear programme since 1975 under the Shah with support from the United States whilst Saudi Arabia has had no nuclear programme. Saudi Arabia has to acquire nuclear weapons from somewhere (North Korea or Pakistan). However, Israel and the United States will never let Saudi Arabia or any Arab country acquire nuclear weapons because it will neutralize Israel’s nuclear weapons and upset the military balance in the Middle East.
In the 1970s when the Shah started Iran’s nuclear programme, both the United States and the CIA knew his ultimate objective. Yet, they turned a blind eye as and when needed.
Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
International Oil Economist
Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London
This is a straight up extortion play by the Saudis. They are proposing to resurrect the US civilian nuclear industry in-return for the technology to build a nuclear bomb. Why would anyone want to try and build a Westinghouse AP1000 reactor for $27 billion dollars? Will be most interesting to see what the US does with this one.