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The Turkey Point Nuclear Reactor Building in Homestead, Florida. Photo: Rhona Wise/AFP via Getty Images

The House Oversight Committee released a report this week that accuses Trump administration officials of legal and ethical breaches in their pursuit of a nuclear-plant deal with Saudi Arabia.

The big picture: While a nuclear-capable Saudi Arabia is a dangerous prospect — MBS has floated the idea of developing nuclear weapons — it's becoming something of a foregone conclusion. The world's nuclear suppliers are already bidding for the contract to construct Saudi Arabia's first two reactors, with Riyadh having shortlisted bids from not only the U.S., but also France, China, Russia and South Korea.

Reality check: If the U.S. doesn't secure a deal, another country could step in. France's nuclear industry is in disarray, while South Korea depends enough on U.S. nuclear technology to potentially necessitate U.S. involvement anyway. It would be alarming if Riyadh inked a deal with Moscow or Beijing, which both have signaled plans to export reactor technology globally.

  • Both China and Russia are known for lax standards on nuclear security, poor track records on safety, and a general willingness to turn a blind eye to partners violating international norms — a special consideration for Riyadh.

Between the lines: China's and Russia's growing roles in the global nuclear trade should worry U.S. policymakers more broadly. When the U.S. led the nuclear market through the 1990s, Washington cultivated long-term partnerships with emerging economies and designed strong international nuclear nonproliferation and security standards. The U.S. risks losing this advantage if Russia and China take the reins.

Moscow has a demonstrated history of exploiting energy dependencies for political gain in Europe. Beijing, too, has already made predatory investments, trapping countries in debt. Each nuclear reactor exported could serve as a source of geopolitical leverage for Russia and China over its lifespan of 60–80 years.

The bottom line: Insider dealing and sidestepping of Congress, while irresponsible and counterproductive, have little to do with the national security merits of a nuclear deal. With the strictest nuclear standards, the U.S. is still the most likely candidate to prevent Riyadh from pursuing weapons research in secret.

Sagatom Saha is an international energy policy analyst and master’s candidate at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

Go deeper

Mike Allen, author of AM
2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's "overwhelming force" doctrine

President-elect Biden arrives to introduce his science team in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President-elect Biden has ordered up a shock-and-awe campaign for his first days in office to signal, as dramatically as possible, the radical shift coming to America and global affairs, his advisers tell us. 

The plan, Part 1 ... Biden, as detailed in a "First Ten Days" memo from incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, plans to unleash executive orders, federal powers and speeches to shift to a stark, national plan for "100 million shots" in three months.

Off the Rails

Episode 2: Barbarians at the Oval

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 2: Trump stops buying what his professional staff are telling him, and increasingly turns to radical voices telling him what he wants to hear. Read episode 1.

President Trump plunked down in an armchair in the White House residence, still dressed from his golf game — navy fleece, black pants, white MAGA cap. It was Saturday, Nov. 7. The networks had just called the election for Joe Biden.

Fringe right plots new attacks out of sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestic extremists are using obscure and private corners of the internet to plot new attacks ahead of Inauguration Day. Their plans are also hidden in plain sight, buried in podcasts and online video platforms.

Why it matters: Because law enforcement was caught flat-footed during last week's Capitol siege, researchers and intelligence agencies are paying more attention to online threats that could turn into real-world violence.