Alwaght- New satellite images indicate that Saudi Arabia is within months of completing its first nuclear reactor amid concerns that the kingdom is not ready to abide by safeguards that would prevent it making a nuclear bomb.
The reactor site is in the King Abdulaziz city for science and technology on the outskirts of Riyadh. The site was identified by Robert Kelley, a former director for nuclear inspections at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), who said it was very small 30-kilowatt research reactor, not far from completion.
“I would guess they could have it all done, with the roof in place and the electricity turned on, within a year,” said Kelley, who worked for more than three decades in research and engineering in the US nuclear weapons complex.
The satellite photos show that a 10-metre high steel tubular vessel, which will contain the nuclear fuel, has been erected, and construction work is under way on the surrounding concrete building.
Kelley said the main practical purpose of the research reactor would be to train nuclear technicians, but it also marked the crossing of a nuclear threshold. Before inserting nuclear fuel into the reactor, Saudi Arabia would have to implement a comprehensive set of rules and procedures, including IAEA inspections, designed to ensure no fissile material was diverted for use in weapons – something it has so far avoided. Saudi Arabia has signed the IAEA’s so-called Small Quantities Protocol, but it hasn’t adopted the rules and procedures that would allow nuclear inspectors to access potential sites of interest.
The reactor has been designed by an Argentinian state-owned company, Invap SE.
This comes as a bipartisan group of American lawmakers have raised concerns about Washington’s nuclear dealings with Saudi Arabia.
In a letter drafted to US Energy Secretary Rick Perry on Tuesday, Senators Robert Menendez, the senior Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Republican committee member Marco Rubio questioned the recent approvals for American companies to share nuclear energy information with Saudi Arabia.