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Saudi Arabia to begin uranium extraction as kingdom seeks self-sufficient nuclear programme

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Saudi Arabia plans to extract uranium domestically as part of its nuclear power programme and sees this as a step towards “self-sufficiency” in producing atomic fuel, a senior official said on Monday.

Extracting its own uranium also makes sense from an economic point of view, said Hashim bin Abdullah Yamani, head of the Saudi government agency tasked with the nuclear plans, the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (KACARE).

In a speech at an international nuclear power conference in Abu Dhabi, he did not specify whether Saudi Arabia seeks to also enrich and reprocess uranium – steps in the fuel cycle which are especially sensitive as they can open up the possibility of military uses of the material.

The world’s top oil exporter says it wants to tap atomic power for peaceful purposes only in order to diversify its energy supply and will award a construction contract for its first two nuclear reactors by the end of 2018.

“Regarding the production of uranium in the kingdom, this is a programme which is our first step towards self-sufficiency in producing nuclear fuel,” Yamani told a conference organised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“We utilise the uranium ore that has been proven to be economically efficient.”

Atomic reactors need uranium enriched to around 5 percent purity but the same technology in this process can also be used to enrich the heavy metal to higher, weapons-grade levels.

This issue has been at the heart of Western and regional concerns about the nuclear work of Iran, Saudi Arabia’s foe, and led to the 2015 deal in which Iran agreed to freeze the 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 and which US President Donald Trump has called into question.

Under the agreement, Iran can enrich uranium to 3.67 percent purity, around the normal level needed for commercial power-generation.

Saudi Arabia would be the second country in the Gulf Arab region to tap nuclear after the United Arab Emirates, which is set to start up its first, South Korean-built reactor in 2018.  The UAE has committed not to enrich uranium itself and not to reprocess spent fuel.

Industry sources have told Reuters Saudi Arabia is reaching out to potential vendors from South Korea, China, France, Russia, Japan and the United States for its first two reactors.

The plans have received extra momentum as part of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, an ambitious economic reform programme launched last year by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Yamani said Saudi Arabia will soon pass laws for its nuclear programme and will have set up all of the regulations for its nuclear regulator by the third quarter of 2018.

“The IAEA also has been requested to conduct an integrated review of our nuclear infrastructure during the second quarter of 2018,” he said, which will allow the agency to assess efforts to prepare Saudi infrastructure “to introduce nuclear power for peaceful purposes.”

Saudi Arabia is considering building some 17.6 gigawatts of nuclear capacity by 2032, the equivalent of about 17 reactors, making it one of the strongest prospects for an industry struggling after the 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan.

Preliminary studies have estimated Saudi Arabia has around 60,000 tonnes of uranium ore, Maher al Odan, the chief atomic energy officer of KACARE said at an electricity forum in Riyadh on 11 October.

Reuters

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Middle East

15 Civilians Killed, Injured in Turkish Strikes on Afrin: Official

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ERBIL — At least two civilians were killed and 13 others were wounded on Sunday as a result of the Turkish military assault on Afrin, northwest of Syria, a local official said.

Osama Sheikh Issa, co-chair of Afrin local administration told Kurdistan24 that what Turkey is trying to achieve is having revenge on the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection (YPG) and Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) fighter’s victory against the Islamic State (IS) in Syria.

“All of the casualties of the Turkish attacks were civil people who had nothing to do with the war” he pointed out.

Issa also asserted that the residents of Afrin are confidently staying in their city, but the displaced Syrian people who had found refuge in Afrin are in danger because of the Turkish assault on the city.

He further ensured that “none of the YPG and YPJ units have been targeted by the Turkish strikes, in deed all the attacks have been aimed at the homes of civilians in Afrin”.

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Middle East

Iran Calls on Turkey to Halt Afrin Operation

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ERBIL — The Islamic Republic of Iran has called on Turkey to halt the Afrin operation and respect Syria’s territorial integrity, said a spokesperson for Iranian Foreign Ministry.

According to Mehr News Agency, Bahram Ghasemi said that Iran is closely and concernedly following the current developments in the city of Afrin.

“Iran hopes that the operation will immediately come to an end to stop the deepening of the crisis in the border areas of Turkey and Syria” he added. 

“The continuation of the crisis in Afrin may further strengthen the takfirist-terrorist groups in the northern Syrian regions, and flare up the fires of war ” warned the Iranian foreign ministry.

Qasemi also drew attention to the Astana peace talks and stated that all countries, especially Turkey, are expected to remain committed to the political solution, especially Astana peace process, for the Syrian crisis and continue observing their commitments and playing their constructive role in the resolution of the crisis.

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Middle East

[Watch]: YPG Destroys Turkish Tank near Afrin

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ERBIL — The US-backed Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) released a footage on Sunday which shows them destroying a Turkish tank near the border city of Afrin.

The YPG fighters appear in the video destroying a Turkish tank with an anti-tank missile.

Turkey on Saturday launched a new air and ground operation on Afrin, a Kurdish city in the northwest of Syria, dubbed as the “Olive Branch Operation”.

The assault has so far left dozens killed and injured, including civilians and fighters from the both sides.

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