Saudi Arabia has discovered enough uranium to potentially kickstart a nuclear weapons programme, according to reports.
Geologists have identified reserves that could produce over 90,000 tonnes of uranium from three deposits in the centre and north-west of the country, according to a Chinese survey.
However, further exploration is still required to verify the vast quantities.
The report was put together by the Beijing Research Institute of Uranium Geology (BRIUG), the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC), the Saudi Geological Survey, and obtained by The Guardian.
Prof Kip Jeffrey, head of Camborne school of mines at the University of Exeter, said the uranium would be “well in excess” of what a few power plants would need.
Mark Hibbs, senior fellow in the nuclear policy program at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, told The Guardian: “If you are considering nuclear weapons development, the more indigenous your nuclear program is, the better.
“In some cases, foreign suppliers of uranium will require peaceful-use commitments from end users, so if your uranium is indigenous, you don’t have to be concerned about that constraint.”
China began prospecting work in Saudi Arabia in 2017, as part of a nuclear energy co-operation agreement, and finished at the end of the last year.
One of the potential uranium reserves appears to be near the planned city of Neom, close to the borders of Egypt and Jordan.
Bruce Riedel, from the Brookings Institution, said the Saudis were “aggressively pursuing the prerequisites” for an energy or weapons program based on the latest report.
Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has previously warned Saudi Arabia would develop nukes if regional rival Iran did the same.
Earlier this week, another report claimed The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is working with a Chinese-linked institute to develop uranium for Saudi Arabia.
The IAEA published a document showing it is helping the kingdom to make nuclear fuel, according to Bloomberg News.
IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi said: “It’s very important that the agency is present and is engaged with any country that wants to perform any activity related to the nuclear fuel cycle.”
Despite the co-operation, the UN nuclear watchdog’s inspectors are not allowed in the country.