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Saudi Arabia is considering a bid from a Chinese state firm to build a nuclear power plant, which could give the Kingdom leverage in possible talks for U.S. assistance for establishing a civil nuclear industry, The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday, quoting Saudi officials with knowledge of the matter.
Saudi Arabia has been actively seeking help with expertise in nuclear energy to develop its own civil nuclear generation capacity. The U.S. has been an obvious first choice among potential partners, but Washington has taken a cautious approach. The United States has made it clear that it would only help Riyadh develop nuclear generation capabilities if any agreement includes preventing the enrichment of uranium or reprocessing of plutonium from the reactors, to prevent the weaponization of nuclear power.
Now Saudi Arabia is evaluating a bid from China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) to build a nuclear power plant in an Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia, close to the border with Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the Saudi officials told the Journal.
Those officials also admitted to the WSJ that the idea to consider the Chinese bid was an attempt to gain leverage in talks with the U.S. about its help for Saudi Arabia’s civil nuclear program, and potentially extract some compromise on the non-proliferation issues.
The Middle East is not known for its nuclear power generation capabilities. With all its oil wealth, the region has traditionally relied on fossil fuels to meet its electricity needs.
In 2020, the first nuclear power plant in the Arab world began operating in the UAE. Plans are to expand it to a facility that would meet a quarter of the country’s electricity demand.
However, observers warn any expansion of nuclear capabilities in the sensitive Middle Eastern region could lead to a nuclear arms race that could end in disaster.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
Tsvetana is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews.