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Saudi crown prince lays foundation for first nuclear research reactor

Date of publication: 6 November, 2018

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The nuclear research reactor is one of 16 planned in the kingdom over the next two decades as Mohammed bin Salman pushes ahead with his ambitious Vision 2030 programme
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman laid the foundation stone for the kingdom's first nuclear research reactor on Monday, state media reported, as the oil-rich kingdom seeks to diversify its energy sources.

The nuclear reactor was among seven industrial and research projects inaugurated by the crown prince during a visit to Riyadh's King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

SPA did not elaborate on details on when the non-power reactor - typically used for research, development and education purposes - would be built and at what cost.

The news comes a month after US nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz, who served as Energy Secretary under Barack Obama, suspended his role  on the board of Saudi Arabia's NEOM mega city project over the disappearance of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Read more: Arab states and nuclear energy: Necessity or geopolitical status symbol?

Saudi Arabia currently draws on oil and natural gas to meet its own fast-growing power demand and desalinate its water. However, diversification away from oil and gas forms a key component of the crown prince's ambitious Vision 2030 programme, which tech city NEOM is also a part.

The world's top crude exporter harbours plans to build 16 nuclear reactors over the next two decades for $80 billion as it seeks to diversify, despite concerns over nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.

Prince Mohammed said in March that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, Riyadh will do so too

In an interview with CBS television, he likened regional rival Iran's supreme leader to Hitler, saying he "wants to create his own project in the Middle East".

Riyadh held deep reservations over the 2015 accord aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions and hailed President Donald Trump's announcement in May that the United States was withdrawing from the deal.

Monday's announcement comes as the US vowed to be "relentless" in countering Iran as sweeping new sanctions took effect.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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