Satellite Images Show Saudi Nuclear Reactor Work Close To Completion
A satellite image shows the site at the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology where Saudi Arabia is building its first nuclear reactor. | (Photo Credit: Google Earth)

Toronto, April 5: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is about a year away from completing work on its first nuclear reactor, according to an expert who analysed images taken by Google Earth.

Robert Kelley who has worked for the U.S. Department of Energy and is a former director of nuclear inspections at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was the first to identify the images of the reactor site at the King Abdulaziz City of Science and Technology (KACST). Kelley said it's surprising to him "how non-transparent" the kingdom has been in the process of building the reactor and "how they seem very cavalier about modifying their arrangements with the IAEA."

Kelley said the construction on the reactor so far appears to be very small in size and intended for research and training purposes. But before nuclear fuel is inserted into the reactor, Saudi Arabia would have to make its intentions known and abide by an agreement that requires inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA. Read: White House Pushed Saudi Nuclear Power Plan, Report Says

Saudi Arabia is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. But in 2005, Riyadh signed an agreement with the IAEA known as the "small quantities protocol" that allows countries with negligible nuclear programs to be exempt from regular inspections. But once Riyadh brings in nuclear fuel into the country Saudi Arabia would have to allow for inspections by the IAEA. “Saudi Arabia will have to move to a full scope comprehensive safeguards agreement with subsidiary arrangements before the unit is fueled,” said Rafael Mariano Grossi to Bloomberg, who is Argentina’s envoy to the IAEA.

Saudi Arabia’s energy ministry said in a statement the facility’s purpose is to “Engage in strictly peaceful scientific, research, educational and training activities in full compliance with international agreements.’’

However, the fact that Saudi Arabia is this close to starting the reactor is alarming for the region. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman has said in the past the kingdom would develop a nuclear bomb if it’s regional rival Iran did so.