US government officials appear to be advancing a potential sale of nuclear power plants to Saudi Arabia. Late last month, Reuters reported that Energy Secretary Rick Perry approved six secret authorizations for companies to do preliminary work on a Saudi nuclear deal without congressional oversight. The Reuters article followed an interim staff report that US Rep. Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, released in February; the report cited whistleblowers who had warned that the White House was trying to rush the transfer of nuclear technology to the Kingdom. Many experts have expressed concern about the terms of a US-Saudi nuclear cooperation agreement now apparently under negotiation. Some despair at the very idea of transferring such sensitive technology to a regime known to have been involved in the gruesome murder of a prominent US-based journalist and to have led a bloody war in Yemen. Saudi Arabia has attempted to justify its nuclear power program as a way to shift its electrical system away from fossil fuels, in part because of climate change concerns and in part because it is economically useful for the Kingdom to sell its oil and gas on the international market, rather than use them to generate electricity. But for sun-baked Saudi Arabia, the economical and obvious switch is to solar energy, which also doesn’t result in carbon emissions and can be used to reduce domestic consumption of oil and gas. The limited efforts in installing solar power capacity on the part of the Saudi government suggest that climate action and economics may not be the driving motivations for its extensive nuclear energy plan. Indeed, members of the Saudi regime have, on other occasions, made it clear that their interests in nuclear energy derive from the idea that it would help them acquire the capability to make nuclear weapons and match Iran, whose regional status is seen to have risen as a result of its uranium enrichment program, even though it is now apparently limited by the Iran nuclear deal.
Bulletin of Atomic Scientists 16th April 2019 read more »