Report: Saudi Arabia Wants Uranium-Enrichment Capacity

Global Security Newswire Staff
Feb. 14, 2014, 7:22 a.m.

In­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials and is­sue ana­lysts re­port signs that Saudi Ar­a­bia wants to de­vel­op a ca­pa­city to en­rich urani­um, des­pite pro­lif­er­a­tion con­cerns.

Riy­adh is un­der­stood to be wor­ried that world powers will agree to al­low Ir­an to main­tain some lim­ited urani­um-en­rich­ment cap­ab­il­ity in a po­ten­tial last­ing deal on its nuc­le­ar pro­gram. Saudi Ar­a­bia has an es­tab­lished in­terest in de­vel­op­ing an atom­ic-en­ergy pro­gram, but its con­cerns about Ir­an could be caus­ing the Per­sian Gulf king­dom to con­sider a more ex­pans­ive do­mest­ic nuc­le­ar cap­ab­il­ity, the Daily Beast re­por­ted on Fri­day.

In­sti­tute for Sci­ence and In­ter­na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Pres­id­ent Dav­id Al­bright told the news web­site he had learned from an uniden­ti­fied European in­tel­li­gence agency of Saudi Ar­a­bia’s pur­suit in re­cent years of the sci­entif­ic and en­gin­eer­ing ex­pert­ise ne­ces­sary to carry out activ­it­ies in all parts of the nuc­le­ar fuel chain.

The full cycle for pro­du­cing atom­ic fuel in­cludes urani­um en­rich­ment and the re­pro­cessing of spent nuc­le­ar fuel — two pro­cesses that could be used to cre­ate both more fuel for civil en­ergy needs and fis­sile ma­ter­i­al suit­able for power­ing war­heads.

Al­bright said Riy­adh was em­ploy­ing tech­nic­al ex­perts cap­able of con­struct­ing the cent­ri­fuge cas­cades re­quired to en­rich urani­um.

“They view the de­vel­op­ments in Ir­an very neg­at­ively,” he said. “They have money, they can buy tal­ent, they can buy train­ing.”

“The Saudis are think­ing through how do you cre­ate a de­terrent through cap­ab­il­ity,” said Al­bright, a phys­i­cist and one­time weapon in­spect­or for the In­ter­na­tion­al Atom­ic En­ergy Agency.

An an­onym­ous Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial told the Daily Beast, “The lo­gic­al re­sponse of any of Ir­an’s neigh­bors to an agree­ment that severely re­stric­ted Ir­an’s pro­gram … is not to build up a proto-mil­it­ary cap­ab­il­ity in en­rich­ment, it’s rather to go in the op­pos­ite dir­ec­tion.”

At the Mu­nich Se­cur­ity Con­fer­ence earli­er this month, former Saudi in­tel­li­gence chief Turki al-Fais­al sug­ges­ted that if Tehran re­tained a urani­um-en­rich­ment abil­ity in a fi­nal nuc­le­ar deal, then Riy­adh and oth­er Ar­ab gov­ern­ments could pur­sue en­rich­ment pro­grams of their own.

“I think we should in­sist on hav­ing equal rights for every­body, this is part of the [Nuc­le­ar Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty] ar­range­ment,” he said.

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