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Saudi Arabia prepares to build first nuclear research reactor

Raising concerns of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East, crown prince lays foundations for first of 16 planned sites to be built over the next two decades

Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman tours an innovation gallery of Saudi Arabian technology, including an exhibit by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, during a visit to Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., March 24, 2018. (Josh Reynolds/AP Images for KAUST)
Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman tours an innovation gallery of Saudi Arabian technology, including an exhibit by King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, during a visit to Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., March 24, 2018. (Josh Reynolds/AP Images for KAUST)

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Monday laid the foundation stone for the kingdom’s first nuclear research reactor, state media said, as the kingdom seeks to diversify its energy mix.

The reactor was among seven projects launched by the prince during a visit to Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

SPA offered no details on when the research or non-power reactor — typically used for research, development and education purposes — would be built and at what cost.

Saudi Arabia currently draws on oil and natural gas to meet its own fast-growing power demand and desalinate its water.

The world’s top crude exporter harbors plans to build 16 nuclear reactors over the next two decades for $80 billion as it seeks to diversify, despite concerns over nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.

Prince Mohammed said in March that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, Riyadh will do so too.

In an interview with CBS television, he likened regional rival Iran’s supreme leader to Hitler, saying he “wants to create his own project in the Middle East.”

Riyadh held deep reservations over the 2015 accord aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions and hailed US President Donald Trump’s announcement in May that the United States was withdrawing from the deal.

Trump reportedly refused a March request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a commitment to halting an emerging deal to sell further nuclear reactors to Saudi Arabia, telling the prime minister that if the US did not supply the reactors, then the Russians or Chinese would.

Netanyahu and his team reportedly requested that, if the Americans insist on going ahead with building reactors, Saudi Arabia be prevented from enriching uranium by itself.

Monday’s announcement comes as the US vowed to be “relentless” in countering Iran as sweeping new sanctions took effect.

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