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Saudi Arabia is fast-tracking an atomic energy programme to reduce its dependence on oil. The nuclear proliferation in the Middle East could put a damper on its ambitious plans.

The atomic policy limited nuclear activities to peaceful purposes. It was approved by the cabinet on Tuesday. Saudi Arabia the world’s largest exporter of oil, has framed its nuclear project as driven purely by economics.

Issues faced by Saudi Arabia

The kingdom is struggling to meet fast-rising energy demand. The crude prices were far below their peaks before the 2014 market crash.

The atomic ambitions of the key US ally and regional power are coming under scrutiny in Washington. It developed tension between the US and Iran over Tehran’s nuclear programme.

Energy consumption in Saudi Arabia has been rising at more than five percent per year. The growth slowed in 2017 after the government cut subsidies and hiked prices. Electricity consumption is expected to double over the next 15 years, reaching 120 gigawatts by 2032.

Steps were taken for improvisation

The Saudi cabinet says its nuclear programme will be in “full compliance with the principle of transparency”. It met nuclear safety standards in accordance with an independent regulatory and supervisory framework.

The country has accelerated plans to build 16 nuclear reactors over the next two decades. According to officials and analysis, the cost is estimated to be $80 billion.

Saudi Energy Minister Khaled al-Faleh said that the nuclear programme would start by building two reactors. Each will produce electricity of about 1.2 to 1.6 gigawatts.

The reactors are expected to generate 17.6 gigawatts of electricity. It will be 10 percent of the country’s power needs by 2040.

The kingdom draws on oil and natural gas to generate both power and desalinate its water. It turned to other sources of power, including solar, thereby freeing up crude for exportation.

Abdulmalik al-Sabery, a consultant in the business development department for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE) SAYS that-

Riyadh shortlisted two to three international firms out of five bidders from China, South Korea, Russia, France and the United States. One firm will be selected to build the first two nuclear reactors in December.  The construction of the reactors will start next year.

By 2040, 55 percent of the country’s power supply will come from solar, wind, geothermal and nuclear energy combined. The projects will cost the kingdom around $67 billion over the next five years.

Riyadh had already spent over $82 billion on electricity projects in the past decade. Riyadh has signed cooperation agreements and memoranda of understanding with over a dozen countries in recent years. It was done to boost nuclear cooperation with France, China, Russia, Hungary and South Korea.

Controversy in Washington

The plans have sparked some controversy in Washington. The tensions are high over the atomic programme of Saudi Arabia’s arch-rival Iran, which denies seeking nuclear arms.

US President Donald Trump administration is going to sign a cooperation accord with Saudi Arabia. Trump has threatened to tear up a 2015 global pact. This evolves Riyadh’s arch-rival Tehran facing suspicions of working with a nuclear bomb. It agreed to curb its atomic programme in exchange for a lifting of sanctions.

Analysts have warned that capacity to produce nuclear energy could open the door to military options across the Middle East.

Concern about a nuclear arms race is fuelled over the future of Iran’s 2015 nuclear agreement. US show its willingness to weaken its strict export safeguards in pursuit of economic advantage. Thereby ignoring risks involved in weaker controls.

Also, read this article Why Russia chose Iran for Crude Oil Future?

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