Saudi Arabia in mid-December launched a survey in cooperation with China for uranium and thorium resources that could be used for nuclear power generation, according to Saudi financial news portal Argaam.

The study is being carried out by the Saudi Geological Survey in cooperation with the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy and the China National Nuclear Corporation in the Hail region. According to the SGS president Zohair Nawab, Saudi Arabia had no intentions to use nuclear energy for military purposes. The exploration survey is intended for mineral exploration, power generation, seawater desalination, and developing renewable energy sources, he added.

Saudi Arabia is planning a major nuclear power development programme to release more of its oil resources for export and has already tendered for the first nuclear power plant. It plans to build 17.6GWe of nuclear capacity by 2032, the equivalent of around 16 reactors. Offers are expected from many countries including Russia, China, South Korea and France. Talks are also underway with the USA. Media reports said Saudi Arabia wants to start construction of two nuclear units with a total electricity generating capacity of up to 2800MWe in 2018.

In an interview with Reuters published on 18 December, former intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal said Saudi Arabia should not forfeit its “sovereign” right to one day enrich uranium under its planned civilian nuclear programme, especially as world powers have allowed Iran to do so. Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih told Reuters that the uranium resources being explored were promising and that Saudi Arabia would like to localise the industry in the long-term.