RIYADH: Saudi Arabia's cabinet on Tuesday approved the national policy of its atomic energy programme, state media said, as the kingdom prepares to award contracts for its first nuclear power plants.
The policy insists on limiting nuclear activities to peaceful purposes and calls for enhanced safety measures as well as the use of best practices for radioactive waste management, the Saudi Press Agency reported.
Saudi Arabia, the world's top oil exporter, is seeking nuclear power to diversify its energy supply mix in order to free up oil to boost exports.
The policy announcement comes ahead of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's visit to the United States on March 19-22, which is likely to see efforts to reach a civilian nuclear cooperation accord with Washington.
The kingdom has accelerated plans to build 16 nuclear reactors over the next two decades, officials and analysts say, at a cost of some $80 billion.
Negotiations are underway with the United States for its agreement to export technology needed for their construction.
Besides the US company Westinghouse, Russian, French, Chinese and South Korean firms have all been seeking the Saudi contracts.
Some analysts have voiced concerns that Saudi Arabia seeks to use its atomic programme as a hedge against its arch-rival Iran, which signed a deal with the United States in 2015 to curb its own nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.
Saudi Arabia, which insists its intentions are peaceful, has signed cooperation agreements with over a dozen countries in recent years to boost nuclear cooperation, including France, China and Russia.