Saudi Arabia is planning to become “self-sufficient” in producing nuclear fuel and intends to begin extracting uranium domestically, the head of the country’s nuclear agency said at a conference organized by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency.
“Regarding the production of uranium in the kingdom, this is a program which is our first step towards self-sufficiency in producing nuclear fuel,” Hashim bin Abdullah Yamani, head of the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, said Monday at the Abu Dhabi conference on nuclear power, Reuters reported.
Officials in the famously oil-rich kingdom say nuclear power could fuel an economic boon. “We utilize the uranium ore that has been proven to be economically efficient,” Yamani said.
KACARE believes there are about 60,000 tons of uranium ore that can be extracted on Saudi soil.
Yamani added that the kingdom would establish a regulatory agency and pass the necessary legislative framework for a nuclear program within roughly a year.
According to Reuters, Saudi Arabia is now looking to major nuclear powers, including the US, Russia, and China, to build its first two reactors. Preliminary plans suggest the Saudis may be looking to build as many as 17 reactors in all.
The comments raised eyebrows at the conference, as they suggested a Saudi push to increase its domestic nuclear development despite a long-running standoff with Iran over the latter’s nuclear ambitions.
There were no indications in Yamani’s comments that Riyadh had plans to begin enriching the uranium on Saudi soil, a key step that could give the kingdom the infrastructure for a military nuclear program.
The nuclear energy program, Yamani insisted, would be solely “for peaceful purposes.”
Saudi Arabia follows the neighboring United Arab Emirates, which is slated to open its own nuclear power reactor in 2018, and which has committed not to enrich uranium domestically.