Saudi Arabia is nearing completion on its first nuclear reactor, according to newly surfaced satellite imagery, Bloomberg reported.
Google Earth images show Saudi Arabia’s first nuclear reactor is almost ready to be commissioned.
The top image shows just a bare patch of land in April 2017. The middle image is of April 2018, the site is lined with construction vehicles and the outlines of a foundation are already apparent. The most recent pictures show that work on Saudi Arabia’s first reactor is well advanced with the containment vessel already in place.
The spotted reactor was sold to the Kingdom from Argentina’s state-owned INVAP SE. The Steel vessel is about 10 meters (33 feet) high with a 2.7-meter diameter which matches other similar sized reactors. Rafael Mariano Grossi, Argentina’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reminded Saudi Arabia they need to sign onto the comprehensive safeguards agreement with subsidiary arrangements before any nuclear fuel is supplied. The IAEA has repeatedly asked Saudi Arabia to adhere to international rules before developing its ambitious nuclear program further.
The images show that the facility is located in the southwest corner of the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology in Riyadh.
Arms-control experts are alarmed by the Kingdom’s progress, because the country is yet to sign the international framework of rules that other nuclear powers follow to ensure that civilian atomic programs aren’t used to build weapons.
“There’s a very high probability these images show the country’s first nuclear facility,” said Robert Kelley, a former IAEA director who also led the U.S. Department of Energy’s remote sensing laboratory. “It means that Saudi Arabia has to get its safeguards in order.”
According to the outlet, nuclear fuel providers wouldn’t work with Saudi Arabia until it concludes new surveillance arrangements with the IAEA.
Saudi Arabia’s energy ministry said in a statement the facility’s purpose is to “engage in strictly peaceful scientific, research, educational and training activities in full compliance with international agreements.’ In addition to that, the ministry said that the reactor is being constructed with utmost transparency and that the Kingdom signed all international non-proliferation treaties adding that the facility is open to visitors.
Despite these claims, in March 2018, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that the Kingdom would develop a nuclear weapon if Iran does so. Iran maintains that its active nuclear program is peaceful, but it did also carry out work on enrichment prior to the Iran Nuclear Deal.
On April 4th, Middle East Online reported that the Kingdom would invite bids for nuclear power projects in 2020. According to anonymous sources, the country plans to issue a multi-billion-dollar request for proposals in 2020 to first two nuclear power reactors and is in discussions with the US.
On the US part, Reuters reported that U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry approved six secret authorizations by companies to sell nuclear power technology and assistance to Saudi Arabia.
Perry’s approvals, known as Part 810 authorizations, allow companies to do preliminary work on nuclear power ahead of any deal but not ship equipment that would go into a plant, one of the anonymous sources claimed.
On April 2nd, US senators from both parties requested information from Rick Perry regarding the approvals for companies to share nuclear energy information with Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia has engaged in “many deeply troubling actions and statements that have provoked alarm in Congress,” Senators Bob Menendez, a Democrat, and Marco Rubio, a Republican, told Perry in a letter, a copy of which was seen by Reuters.
According to the official statement by the Department of Energy, Rick Perry issued 37 Part 810 authorizations and that it “does not authorize the transfer of nuclear material, equipment or components.”
It also reminded the difference between the 810 Authorization and the 123 Agreement.
“Part 810 authorizations and 123 agreements are two distinct and different processes based on two separate sections of the Atomic Energy Act. The Part 810 process controls the export of unclassified nuclear technology and assistance. It enables nuclear trade by assuring that nuclear technologies exported by U.S. companies are used only for peaceful purposes…
Separately, a 123 agreement is the legal mechanism that allows the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to license the export of nuclear material, equipment and components from the U.S. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is the licensing authority for exports under 123 Agreements. The U.S. has been in ongoing discussions with Saudi Arabia regarding a potential 123 agreement since 2012, and these discussions continue today.”
It also reminded that all 123 Agreements undergo a Congressional review.