(Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia took a key step toward advancing its nascent nuclear power program, telling international inspectors they’ll have wider access to facilities in order to account for atomic materials.
The Gulf Arab power is implementing broader monitoring guidelines with the International Atomic Energy Agency and rescinding an outdated set of rules that have hindered its nuclear program, Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz Bin Salman Al Saud said Monday in Vienna.
“The kingdom is committed through its policy on atomic energy to the highest standards on transparency and reliability,” Prince Abdulaziz said in prepared remarks at the IAEA’s annual general conference.
The move means that Saudi Arabia will be able to access supplies of fissile material and begin operating its first reactor, a small research unit built with the assistance of Argentina. The change will also support the Gulf Arab nation’s first tender for nuclear power plants.
“I look forward to receiving Saud Arabia’s formal communication about its decision,” IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said late Monday. “The IAEA stands ready to provide support in this regard.”
Nonproliferation analysts had voiced concern over Saudi nuclear plans in the absence of full IAEA safeguards and in light of comments by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The de facto Saudi ruler, known as MBS, has repeatedly warned that his country would have no choice but to enrich its own nuclear materials if its Persian Gulf rival Iran is allowed to continue doing so. He’s also warned that if Iran develops a nuclear bomb, Saudi Arabia could look to do the same.
US President Joe Biden’s efforts to revive talks that would reimpose formal limits on Iran’s nuclear program have struggled to gain traction. The two sides have resorted instead to informal channels that have seen Iran dial down enrichment and the US turn a blind eye to Iranian oil exports.
The Saudi step at the IAEA comes as the Biden administration works with Prince Mohammed on a potential framework that would see Saudi Arabia normalize relations with Israel in exchange for firm security guarantees from the US and Israeli steps to preserve the possibility of a Palestinian state.
MBS said last week a deal on formal ties with Israel was getting closer “every day” but, privately, the Saudis have asked for advanced US weaponry and want America’s blessing to enrich uranium domestically as part of a plan to build nuclear power plants.
Saudi Arabia’s decision to expand IAEA access was immediately welcomed by US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, who said her country remained committed to “upholding the highest nonproliferation standards in the world.”
(Adds IAEA director in the fifth paragraph)
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