Saudi Arabia has scored the support of the International Atomic Energy Agency in its effort to adopt nuclear energy, Reuters reports, quoting a Saudi TV channel that cited the head of the IAEA.
“Saudi Arabia is interested in nuclear energy and we are working on providing it with the necessary support,” Rafael Grossi said.
Saudi Arabia has been actively seeking help with expertise in nuclear energy to develop its own generation capacity. The U.S. has been an obvious first choice among potential partners, but Washington has taken a cautious approach, making it clear it would only help Riyadh develop nuclear generation capabilities if it agrees to U.S. oversight to prevent the weaponization of nuclear power.
Israel has been concerned as well and has made this concern known to the United States. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia reached out to China for help with nuclear reactor construction. According to a Wall Street Journal report citing unnamed sources in the know, Saudi Arabia had used Chinese help to build a facility for the extraction of uranium yellowcake from the radioactive ore—an early step in making fuel for a nuclear reactor. Riyadh has denied the report.
The Middle East is not known for its nuclear power generation capabilities. With all its oil wealth, the region has traditionally relied on fossil fuels to satisfy its electricity needs. However, with the current diversification drive prompted by the last two oil price crashes, nuclear is making inroads into the region.
Earlier this year, the first nuclear power plant in the Arab world began operating in the UAE. Plans are to expand it to a facility that would satisfy a quarter of the country’s electricity demand. However, observers warn any expansion of nuclear capabilities in the sensitive region could lead to a nuclear arms race that could end in disaster.