Blocking Saudi nuclear plant opens door to China, US energy secretary says

Donald Trump, with CIA chief Pompeo, Vice-President Pence and Energy Secretary Perry, host Saudi Crown Prince (unseen) for a working lunch at the White House.(Reuters Photo)

WASHINGTON: A US failure to build civilian nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia may allow countries that lack nuclear proliferation standards to step in, Energy Secretary Rick Perry told lawmakers.

Perry, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee, was asked about reports the US is considering a nuclear technology-sharing agreement that wouldn’t prohibit the Saudis from enriching nuclear fuel into weapons-grade materials.

“I think it’s really important to look at each of these agreements not in a vacuum,” Perry said, without confirming whether the US was considering such a deal. “I always remind people that the alternative is no good – if Russia, China are who is going to be chosen to do the civil nuclear projects in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, there will be no oversight.”

Eager to extend a lifeline to Westinghouse Electric Co., Exelon Corp. and other US companies hurt by a domestic downturn in nuclear power plant construction, the Trump administration is in negotiations with the Saudi government as it seeks to build as many as 16 new reactors in the kingdom. Bloomberg first reported the White House was considering an agreement that lacked the so-called “gold standard” agreed to by the United Arab Emirates, prohibiting the enrichment and reprocessing of nuclear fuel and waste.

“I think the proliferation dangers are so great that we should be able to wield all of the influence we have which goes way beyond just this one transaction to insist that same standards we applied to the Emirates,” said Senator Jack Reed, the top Democrat on panel, who noted that he “and many others” would oppose a nuclear deal with Saudi Arabia that allows enrichment of uranium. “There should be no difference.”

In an interview Thursday with Bloomberg Television, Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih said negotiations with the US have been “very constructive” and that “our counterparts from the American side have been understanding of the kingdom’s situation.” The kingdom will be fully compliant with international treaties and regulations and its nuclear program will be subject to international inspection, he said.

“We want the best technology providers to be with us and the US is on that list,” he said. “We hope that the US will join us and be part of the competition that is taking place later on this year and will be with us for the long term.”


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