Saudi Arabia said on Monday that it has opted to discontinue the UN Atomic Energy Agency’s light-touch surveillance of its nuclear operations in favor of full-fledged safeguards.
Saudi Arabia is developing a nuclear program that it hopes to extend to encompass operations such as uranium enrichment.
Riyadh has yet to activate its first nuclear reactor, allowing its program to be supervised under the Small Quantities Protocol (SQP), an agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency that exempts less advanced governments from numerous reporting and inspection duties.
IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi has been calling on the dozens of states that still have SQPs to amend or rescind them, calling them a “weakness” in the global non-proliferation regime. The IAEA has for years been in talks with Riyadh on making the switch to a so-called Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement (CSA) for years.
“The Kingdom has recently taken the decision to rescind its Small Quantities Protocol and to move to the implementation of a full-scope Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement,” Saudi Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman told the IAEA’s annual General Conference, speaking through an interpreter.
If Saudi Arabia were to introduce nuclear material into its first nuclear reactor, a low-power research reactor in Riyadh that is near completion, it would void the SQP and its exemptions from regular safeguards.
Prince Abdulaziz did not say whether on top of a regular CSA Saudi Arabia planned to sign up to the IAEA’s Additional Protocol, which allows for more wide-ranging and intrusive checks such as snap inspections.