A senior government official insisted the uranium would only be used for “peaceful purposes” to allow the oil-rich nation to diversify its energy supply.
It comes amid soaring tensions on the Korean peninsula as Kim Jong-un continues to build his nuclear arsenal threatening the outbreak of World War 3.
But Saudi Arabia insists its nuclear power plans are for peaceful purposes.
Saudi Arabia is working towards “self-sufficiency” in producing atomic fuel, a senior official explained, and extracting its own uranium makes economic sense before it starts building its first nuclear reactors next year.
Saudi Arabia is hoping to build its first nuclear reactors next year
Hashim bin Abdullah Yamani, head of the Saudi government agency tasked with the nuclear plans, did not say whether the country plans to enrich and reprocess uranium – which would make it a potential option for military use.
Yamani told a conference in Abu Dhabi: “Regarding the production of uranium in the kingdom, this is a program which is our first step towards self-sufficiency in producing nuclear fuel.
“We utilise the uranium ore that has been proven to be economically efficient.”
Atomic reactors need uranium enriched to around five per cent purity, but the same technology in this process can also be used to enrich the metal to much higher levels, which makes it suitable for use in weapons.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman met with Italian PM Gentiloni earlier today
Enriching uranium has long been a cause for international concern and in 2015 Saudi Arabia’s regional foe, Iran, signed a nuclear deal with world powers in which the country agreed to freeze its nuclear programme for 15 years for sanctions relief.
On Monday, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said Iran was complying with the nuclear deal signed with world powers – despite President Donald Trump’s questioning of the matter.
Saudi Arabia will join the United Arab Emirates as the only two countries in the Gulf Arab region to go nuclear.
The UAE is set to start up its first, South Korean-built reactor in 2018 and has vowed not to enrich uranium itself and not to reprocess spent fuel.
The Abu Dhabi conference was attended by experts from across the world
Saudi Arabia is considering building 17.6 gigawatts of nuclear capacity by 2032 as part of an economic reform programme by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman called Vision 2030.
This is the equivalent of 17 reactors which makes it one of the strongest prospects for an industry struggling after the 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan.
Saudi Arabia is reaching out to potential vendors from South Korea, China, France, Russia, Japan and the United States for its first two reactors.
Preliminary studies have estimated Saudi Arabia has around 60,000 tonnes of uranium ore.