British engineers pitch for Saudi nuclear programme

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Saudi Arabia moved closer to a hugely controversial civil nuclear programme this weekend, after UK and US engineers pitched to draw up its atomic energy plans.

Initial bids for a pre-feasibility study, which would identify sites for nuclear plants and study the diplomatic implications of building them, were due yesterday.

Such a programme is likely to cost more than the $40bn plans that nearby Abu Dhabi is implementing. The tender process is being run through The King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy, which has been established to find ways of meeting the oil-rich nation's future energy needs.

A broad plan has already been drawn up by the UK office of Finnish energy consultant Pöyry, but the next stage will inform Saudi Arabia's final decision.

Saudi Arabia is signed-up to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which states that countries that do not already have atomic weapons cannot pursue nuclear options as a defence strategy. However, its desire to have civil nuclear power stations is complicated as it is not part of a nuclear co-operation agreement that would, in effect, give the green light to such plans. British engineers, for example, can produce the study but not provide materials to build a station without such an agreement.

There is also concern that a nuclear programme could destabilise the region. The selected engineer's report, which is expected to take six months, will look at political as well as "semi-economic and semi-technical issues".