The government of Saudi Arabia on 12 March approved a national nuclear programme tabled by Energy Minister Khalid Al-Falih, who is also Chairman of the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy.

The government reviewed the policy and published new guidelines to ensure that nuclear development for peaceful use must comply with all legislation, convention and international agreements. It called on all involved to uphold transparency and to comply with nuclear safety and security processes through an independent monitoring system. It also called for compliance with the international standard for nuclear waste disposal, and to ensure the continuity of the programme by developing national capability in nuclear energy.

Saudi Arabia is  looking to develop nuclear power to diversify its energy supply and in 2011 announced plans to build 16 reactors that within 20 years would generate up to 18GWe. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, president of the Council for Economic and Development Affairs, defence minister and deputy prime minister, subsequently incorporated it into Vision 2030 economic guidelines. A shortlist of qualified bidders has been drawn up (Russia, China, South Korea, France and the USA) and contracts for two nuclear reactors are to be awarded by the end of 2018.

In the USA, three law firms have filed disclosures that they are advising the kingdom on the issue. Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman said in a 20 February Justice Department filing that it would be billing the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources at a rate of $890 per hour to give advice on a potential bilateral agreement on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy as well as related legal matters concerning the development of a commercial nuclear programme.

A similar filing with the Justice Department was made on 21 February by King and Spalding. The company said it would be paid up to $450,000 for an initial 30-day contract, which could be extended.

In the third registration on 20 February, lawyer and retired Saudi Arabian Oil Company executive David Kultgensaid he was recruited in early October to provide legal and consulting services to Saudi Arabia, including on its national nuclear energy project.