Saudi Arabia has nearly completed construction of its first nuclear reactor, sparking fears about the country’s quest for nuclear power.
New satellite images, first published by Bloomberg, show construction on the building site has made significant process over the past three months.
The images show the construction of a 10-metre high steel vessel, which would contain nuclear fuel, and construction work on the surrounding concrete building.
The facility is located in the southwest corner of the King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology in Riyadh.
In a statement to Bloomberg, Saudi Arabia’s energy ministry said its purpose was to “engage in strictly peaceful scientific, research, educational and training activities in full compliance with international agreements”.
It also said the reactor was being built with transparency and was open to visitors, and that the kingdom has signed all international non-proliferation treaties.
Robert Kelley, a nuclear expert and veteran of the US Department of Energy, said the reactor could be completed in “nine months to a year”.
He said the construction appears to be small in size and intended for research and training purposes.
Mr Kelley also said that, before the kingdom can insert nuclear fuel into the reactor, it would have to abide by international agreements.
He said it had been surprising to him “how non-transparent” the kingdom had been in the process of building the reactor and “how they seem very cavalier about modifying their arrangements with the IAEA”.
Mr Kelley was referring to agreements the kingdom has signed. The kingdom agreed to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty three decades ago. In 2005, it signed an agreement with the IAEA known as the “small quantities protocol” that allowed countries with negligible nuclear programs to be exempt from regular inspections or nuclear monitoring.