The US has approved the sale of nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia, the Reuters news agency reported on Thursday.
Citing a copy of a document it had seen, the global news outlet said US Energy Secretary Rick Perry had granted six secret authorizations to companies to sell the know-how to the desert kingdom as part of a hoped-for broader deal on nuclear power.
Reuters said that the US was looking to build at least two nuclear plants and that Russia and South Korea were also vying for the project. An announcement on the winning bid was to be made later this year, it said.
Quoting a source that declined to be named, the agency said Perry’s approvals enable companies to conduct preliminary work on nuclear power before a deal is signed, but that no equipment that could be used in a nuclear plant would be delivered.
The Department of Energy document seen by Reuters said the companies involved had asked the administration to keep the approvals confidential.
The Associated Press said last month that White House officials pushed a project to share nuclear power technology with Saudi Arabia despite the objections of ethics and national security officials, according to a congressional report citing whistleblowers within the US administration.
Lawmakers from both parties had expressed concerns that Saudi Arabia could develop nuclear weapons if the US technology were transferred without proper safeguards, which could prompt a nuclear arms race in the region.
Saudi Arabia is fearful that its arch-foe Iran will gain a nuclear weapon and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said that such a step would force the kingdom to follow suit and also develop nuclear weapons.
The Democratic-led House oversight committee opened an investigation into the claims by several unnamed whistleblowers who said they witnessed “abnormal acts” in the White House regarding the proposal to build dozens of nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia.
The report raised concerns whether some in a White House marked by “chaos, dysfunction, and backbiting” sought to circumvent established national security procedures regarding nuclear power technology.
Relying on the whistleblower accounts and email communications, the Congressional committee’s report detailed how National Security Council and ethics officials repeatedly warned that the actions of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who was fired in early 2017, and one of his senior aides could run afoul of federal conflicts of interest laws and statutes governing the transfer of nuclear technology to foreign powers.
According to the report, the whistleblowers came forward because they had concerns “about efforts inside the White House to rush the transfer of highly sensitive US nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia in potential violation of the Atomic Energy Act and without review by Congress as required by law — efforts that may be ongoing to this day.”