Uranium yellowcake (Photo credit: PALLAVA BAGLA/CORBIS/GETTY IMAGES)
Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman has unveiled plans to use domestically-sourced uranium to build up the kingdom’s nuclear power industry as part of the government’s plans to be “a global leader in the renewable energy sector.”
“The kingdom intends to utilize its national uranium resources, including in joint ventures with willing partners in accordance with international commitments and transparency standards,” Abdulaziz bin Salman said during the Future Minerals Forum in Riyadh on 11 January.
The Saudi official also said that the process would involve “the entire nuclear fuel cycle which involves the production of yellowcake, low enriched uranium and the manufacturing of nuclear fuel both for our national use and of course for export.”
“Recent explorations of activities showed a diverse portfolio of uranium in different geological locations within the Kingdom such as Jabal Saeed, Madinah, Jabal Qariah in the north,” Bin Salman said, adding: “Along with uranium, rare minerals such as titanium have been identified in significant quantities in the Kingdom, unlocking even greater investment opportunities.”
Atomic reactors need uranium enriched to 5 percent purity to produce energy. However, the same technology can enrich the heavy metal to weapons-grade levels.
This issue is at the heart of western sanctions and sabotage campaigns launched against Iran’s nuclear energy program.
In December, the Saudi Ministry of Industry and Mineral Resources announced that the kingdom’s mineral wealth was valued in excess of $1.3 trillion and included copper, zinc, phosphates, uranium, and gold deposits.
During his talk on Wednesday, the Saudi energy minister reiterated Riyadh’s “ambitious targets for its energy mix,” saying this will require “a large scale of deployment of solar, wind and battery storage projects across the kingdom.”
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf partners have invested heavily in renewable energy over recent years.
Last November, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) revealed that the kingdom would commit $2.5 billion to the so-called ‘Middle East Green Initiative’ over the next 10 years.
The initiative seeks to eliminate emissions of 670 million tons of carbon dioxide in West Asia, representing 10 percent of the global total. It also envisions planting 50 billion trees in the region, representing five percent of global reforestation targets.