Could Saudi Arabia soon go nuclear? [Getty-file photo]
Date of publication: 16 December, 2017
Donald Trump has told congress on US efforts to secure multi-billion dollar reactor projects in Saudi Arabia, but did not reveal if loosening uranium enrichment rules. White House officials informed members of the Congress this week about a prospective multi-billion contract to build reactors to Saudi Arabia, in-line with Donald Trump’s campaign promise to kick-start the US nuclear industry.
They did not, however, comment on mounting rumours that the administration might loosen Obama-era restrictions on uranium enrichment technology to Saudi Arabia, something vital to the chances of a US company winning the bid.
Enriched uranium could in theory be coverted by Riyadh into fissile material, something that could be eventually developed into making a nuclear weapon.
Giving Riyadh the technology to enrich uranium would undoubtedly lead to increased tensions with arch-rival Iran, which has embarked on its own nuclear programme.
Both countries have denied they have any ambitions to build nuclear weapons, although Riyadh believes Iran’s nuclear programme is a cover for it developing the bomb.
Reports that the US might drop the restrictions on uranium enrichment techology were revealed by Bloomberg this week and coincide with a visit to the kingdom by Energy Minister Rick Perry.
US nuclear tech giant Westinghouse face tough compeition from Russian, Chinese and Korean rivals to build some 16 nuclear reactors over the next 20 to 25 years, which is expected to cost $80 billion.
Having the option of nuclear refinement on the table would be a big boost in Westinghouse’s chances winning the bid after recent domestic business disasters.
Members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee were briefed by officials from Trump’s energy ministry this week although it was scant on details regarding progress on the issue.
A 2008 law states that Senate and House bodies must be “fully informed” on major foreign policy decisions, which is something that congressman feel has been lacking under Trump.
“We’re frustrated by the lack of briefings and having to yet again learn about potential foreign policy developments from the press,” one congressional aide told Reuters.
“It also appears that this is policy being driven out of the White House, which makes congressional oversight that much harder.”