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Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Dreams

Ukraine’s Rivne Nuclear Power Plant. What does this have to do with Saudi Arabia? Read on.

US talks continue with Saudi Arabia on a deal that involves their relationship with Israel and the nuclear power/ weapons capabilities that the Saudis want thrown into the deal. Saudi Arabia has long sought a nuclear fuel cycle capability, although it has little of the infrastructure or resources to support the technology. The obvious reason for their desire is to match Iran’s nuclear program and the possibility that Iran could build a nuclear weapon.

Time out for a disclaimer: Whatever Iran’s rhetoric or recent actions on the subject, I think it unlikely, for reasons I’ve listed before, that Iran will build nuclear weapons any time soon, unless they perceive a new and serious threat from other nations.

The Saudis would like to be prepared to counter Iran. If things were to happen quickly, they might be able to buy nuclear weapons from Pakistan, but, for any nation, the surer route is to be able to control the supply chain within their country.

Over the weekend, a group of scientists and diplomats sent a letter to the Biden administration, urging that uranium enrichment not be part of any agreement with the Saudis because of its potential for being used in a weapons program. The letter was organized by the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD) and the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center (NPEC). FDD is a hard-line anti-Iran pro-Israel organization, and NPEC is a small think tank on nuclear issues.

The signers of the letter represent a broad range of opinion, from nuclear experts whose political opnions align with FDD’s through experts and diplomats concerned primarily about nonproliferation.

Saudi Arabia has wanted a nuclear capability for a long time. That desire has taken them and others to some strange places, the full story of which we don’t yet know. Back in 2019, I wrote about Michael Flynn’s role in that search: the companies, the plan, and the people. There have been additional developments since then, but the basic shape remains the same.

Jared Kushner played a role that brought a giant holding company into the mess, buying Westinghouse Nuclear, one of the few US companies that makes reactor fuel elements. Russia may be involved in the financing of the company. A few years back, Ukraine awarded Westinghouse the contract for supplying nuclear fuel for its Soviet-built nuclear power plants, a blow to Russia. This month, Westinghouse delivered its first fuel assemblies to Ukraine’s Rivne Power Plant.

It’s a part of the history that I think we need to know more about. Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, and Russia may have more to do with each other than we’ve thought.

Cross-posted to Nuclear Diner

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