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U.S. Examines Whether Saudi Nuclear Program Could Lead to Bomb Effort

  • August 06, 2020

In a five-page report, Mr. Albright described the facility, built from 2013 to 2018, as suspicious given its relative isolation in the Saudi desert and its long access road.

A satellite image taken in 2014, before the structure had a roof, he said, revealed the installation of four large yellow cranes for lifting and moving heavy equipment across sprawling high-bay areas. Mr. Albright added that each building also had adjoining two-story offices and areas for support personnel.

He noted that his examination of satellite images could identify no signs of processing equipment or raw materials arriving at the desert facility.

In his report, Mr. Albright found the appearance of the Saudi buildings to be roughly comparable to that of Iran’s uranium conversion facility, a plant that was designed by China in the city of Isfahan. It is central to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

But Mr. Kelley expressed skepticism that the satellite images showed evidence of secret nuclear work. The Uyaynah site, he said, “has been identified for years as a joint U.S.-Saudi solar cell development facility.”

“That is exactly what it looks like in satellite imagery,” he said.

Still, Mr. Kelley added, “I am completely convinced that Saudi Arabia and China are actively cooperating on plans for uranium mining and yellowcake production” elsewhere in the kingdom.

Frank Pabian, a former satellite image analyst at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, located a desert site that seemed to match the facility described in The Journal article. It appears to be a small mill for turning uranium ore into yellowcake. It has a checkpoint, high security fences, a large building about 150 feet on a side and ponds for the collection of uranium waste — a signature of such mills. The rugged desert site is in northwestern Saudi Arabia just south of Al-Ula, a small town once on the trade route for incense.

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