Saudi Arabia's First Nuclear Reactor Sparks Fears From Experts

Experts say the nuclear reactor could go live within a year.

Google Earth images show Saudi Arabia’s first nuclear reactor is almost finished. Bloomberg reported that the images likely indicate the reactor could be producing power within the year. 

The news of the near-completed reactors has sparked fears across the globe that the Kingdom plans to use nuclear technology without signing on to the international rules governing the industry.

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According to the Google Earth images the facility is located in the southwest corner of the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology in Riyadh. 

Saudi Arabia has yet to sign on to the international framework of rules. The rules are insurance against civilian atomic programs being used to build weapons. Saudi energy ministry has said the purpose of the reactor is for scientific, research, educational and training purposes.

Saudi Arabia has nuclear plans

The kingdom's spokesperson has said that all necessary non-proliferation treaties have been signed and that the facility was being built with transparency. Saudi Arabia has in the past indicated it would like to develop a nuclear plant but has not revealed any plans on how such a plant would be monitored.

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Arms-control experts fear the wealthy government could try and obtain nuclear weapons. Saudi Arabia leader, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has said he would push to develop a nuclear bomb if the country’s rival Iran did so. 

This statement a little over a year ago caused ripples through the nuclear monitoring sector who fear that they may face opposition to the country if they try and access Saudis nuclear facilities.

No fuel until signatures collected

The reactor site spotted via Google Earth 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.

Nuclear Fuel supplies should not agree to move to supply the unit until the Kingdom has signed into new surveillance arrangements which are then required to be lodged with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.

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Monitoring body anxious to see the agreement signed

Rafael Mariano Grossi, Argentina’s envoy to the IAEA has 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.

By developing complex and binding agreements and a comprehensive monitoring program the IAEA aims to ensure that nuclear materials used in civilian power plants don’t end up going into a weapons program. 

The U.S should demand that the Kingdom adopt the so-called "gold-standard agreement" before allowing any private U.S companies to invest in the Saudi nuclear program.

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