Why the Saudis Bear Watching - Hint: 16 Nuclear Power Plants in the Desert

Apparently, Saudi Arabia needs nuclear power plants, and Rick Perry is happy to authorize a few of them. In secret, or at least attempt to do so. Here’s Reuters last week:

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has approved six secret authorizations by companies to sell nuclear power technology and assistance to Saudi Arabia, according to a copy of a document seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

Apparently, it does get very hot in Saudi Arabia, and presumably the energy needs of the kingdom are substantial with all those AC units working overtime. It's too bad they have to rely on expensive imported technology seeing they have few other energy alternatives to fuel their power plants. Like, oh I dunno, a little oil and gas maybe?

But we can all relax. There is no pretense that this is about generating electricity or weaning the kingdom off it's overwhelming dependence on the enormous deposits of fossil fuels beneath its sands. As Mohamed bin Salman clearly stated to CBS last year, Saudi Arabia would develop nuclear weapons if Iran ever did.

So, the kingdom - which does burn about 10% of it's oil production to generate electricity and wants instead to export or save more of its oil - is developing ties with nuclear powers around the world. Here's Foreign Policy:

Officials in Saudi Arabia, which can burn as much as one-tenth of its oil production every summer just making electricity, want to preserve that black gold for more lucrative exports. One answer is adding more renewable energy, especially solar power. Another answer is nuclear power, and the country plans to build as many as 16 big nuclear power plants over the next 25 years; Riyadh already has a tender out for the first two plants, attracting the interest of Russia, China, France, South Korea--and, especially, the United States.

America's nuclear industry, seeing almost zero chance of big new projects at home, is champing at the bit to get into what could be a $100 billion market.

So does America ensure it's the nation that supplies Saudi Arabia with the technology, or at least key parts of the technology, and thereby retain some control over how the kingdom develops its nuclear industry and perhaps that way remains able to slow down any moves to start processing spent fuel and build bombs and warheads? Or do they try to keep both Iran and Saudi Arabia from ever becoming nuclear powers?

Since sometime after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the world has been moving away from longer-term nuclear arms treaties and towards a far more unstable - if less extreme high-risk - environment in which the likelihood of nuclear conflict has been leaking out to the periphery and away from the key players like Russia, China, and the U.S. and it's ally the UK, and to a lesser extent, France. It's now the India-Pakistan border or the Korean peninsula where the greatest risk seems to lie.

And if Iran - God forbid - does acquire nuclear capability then we will not only have a possible Israel - Iran nuclear confrontation but instead a three-way nightmare with the Saudis in the mix. How do you game out the possibilities of cities evaporating under a nuclear blast when the players are Israel, Iran, and Saudi Arabia? As good as Israel's defense systems are reported to be, if somehow Saudi military chiefs suddenly decide to turn their missiles away from Tehran and towards Tel Aviv to join up with their hated Shiite rivals to somehow try and destroy the Middle East's only democracy, will Israel be able to emerge unscathed? Or even substantially the same nation afterwards?

In other words, selling nuclear technology to the Saudi's is a risky business to put it mildly. Is it any wonder that the companies involved (presumably American but how can we tell at this point?) want to remain anonymous?

Senators Rubio and Menendez have requested and managed to get the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to look into the Trump administration's conversations about a nuclear deal with the Saudis.

As a possible answer we have this happy spin put out by Foreign Affairs at the end of their recent piece on the possible exports of nuclear technology to the kingdom:

In general, selling U.S. nuclear technology has another benefit, too, many experts say: The United States also exports its regulatory regime, safety and security standards, and strict protocols against nuclear proliferation, making American participation in the worldwide scramble for nuclear power a way to boost, rather than undermine, global security.

The Saudis have trouble keeping their air force in the air without US technical support. And now they're going to be building and running possibly over a dozen nuclear plants? With a crown prince threatening to match Iran bomb for bomb?

This bears watching.

Posted by Keeley at April 8, 2019 3:48 PM
Comments
Comment #441324

The memoryless author doesn’t seem to know that Nukes for Saudis was something that jailbird Mike Flynn was working on during the 2016 campaign. It’s funny how you managed to avoid using the word “uranium” at all, although you named “russia” twice. Of course, russia has more uranium than we do, and Flynn was well aware of that when he was trying to finalize a deal on this literally during the inauguration. Iran has plenty of Uranium too. I could explain the intersections involved in the various countries that produce the most uranium and those with the greatest reserves, but this is a dead website that should have been shut down years ago. This article is an improvement over your gossipy ones, but falls short of anything that would create a discussion. You seem to be reading old issues of magazines, and then using them as sources for your articles.

Posted by: ohrealy at April 8, 2019 5:05 PM
Comment #441377

There are some claims that Israel is selling nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.

With the proliferation of nuclear technology, it’s probably only a matter of time until the next nuclear war (especially in regions where there is so much hatred, intolerance, and volatility for so many decades).
For a tiny nation like Israel (where some borders are still disputed), it would not be easy to attack Israel (only about 19-to-85 miles wide and 263 miles long) without affecting all of the border nations (Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon) and nearby nations (Cyprus, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Turkey).

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