(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration is encouraging Saudi Arabia to consider bids by Westinghouse Electric Co. and other U.S. companies to build nuclear reactors in that country and may allow the enrichment of uranium as part of that deal, according to three people familiar with the plans.
Energy Secretary Rick Perry visited Saudi Arabia this month where the projects were discussed, according to two people. The people familiar asked not to be identified discussing the confidential negotiations.
Previous U.S. agreements have prohibited the enrichment and reprocessing of uranium, and that had scuttled negotiations to use U.S. technology in Saudi nuclear projects during the Obama administration. The administration is mulling easing that requirement now as a way to help Westinghouse and other companies win Saudi Arabian contracts, two people said.
A meeting to hammer out details of the nuclear cooperation agreement, known as a 123 Agreement for the section of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act that requires it, will be held at the White House Wednesday, two administration officials said.
A successful U.S. bid would help deliver on President Donald Trump’s promise to revive and revitalize the domestic nuclear industry, helping American companies edge out Russian and Chinese competitors to build new fleets around the world. Saudi Arabia plans to construct 16 nuclear power reactors over the next 20 to 25 years at a cost of more than $80 billion, according to the World Nuclear Association.
Westinghouse, the nuclear technology pioneer that is part of Toshiba Corp., went bankrupt in March, after it hit delays with its AP1000 reactors at two U.S. plants. After it declared bankruptcy, Westinghouse -- whose technology is used in more than half the world’s nuclear power plants -- said it shifted its focus to expanding outside the U.S.
Winning contracts in Saudi Arabia could provide a new market that Westinghouse needs and provide at least a partial vindication for the investment in the AP1000 technology.
“Westinghouse is pleased that Saudi Arabia has decided to pursue nuclear energy,” Sarah Cassella, a spokeswoman, said in a emailed statement. “We are fully participating in their request for information and are pleased to provide the AP1000 plant, the industry’s most advanced technology.”
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association, said weakening the prohibition against enrichment and reprocessing, often referred to as "the gold standard," is disturbing given what he said was Saudi Arabia’s "sub-par nuclear nonproliferation record."
“We shouldn’t compromise our longstanding efforts to stop the spread of nuclear weapons in order to play favorites with certain companies or countries,” he said in an email, calling the idea "disturbing and counterproductive."
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