The Trump administration has approved six applications for U.S. companies to sell nuclear power technology and assistance to Saudi Arabia, Energy Secretary Rick Perry told lawmakers Thursday.
Perry told the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Energy Department has approved 37 nuclear applications since January 2017, including nine in the Middle East. Besides the six to Saudi Arabia, two were approved for Jordan.
Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., asked Perry if the applications were approved after Oct. 2, when Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, lived in Virginia.
Perry said he did not know the specific date.
Lawmakers from both parties have expressed concerns that Saudi Arabia could develop nuclear weapons if the U.S. technology is transferred without proper safeguards.
The approvals, known as Part 810 authorizations, allow companies to do preliminary work on nuclear power ahead of any deal to build a nuclear plant. They do not allow equipment to be shipped. The authorizations were first reported by the Daily Beast before Perry confirmed them in public testimony.
Perry disputed media accounts describing the authorizations as secret, saying, “These U.S. companies that are going to be doing this work want to keep that proprietary information from being out in the public domain.”
“What we’re talking about here is something that goes on every day in this town and across the country,” he added.
The Trump administration had previously opened talks with Riyadh on what’s known as a “123 agreement.” The name comes from the section of the law that establishes the parameters for major nuclear cooperation between the United States and other countries. Without one, U.S. nuclear energy companies such as Westinghouse would lose out on business opportunities with the Saudis.
Sen. Marco Rubio and a group of other Republican senators told President Donald Trump in October they would work to block an agreement from securing congressional approval if the administration pushes ahead. They expressed concern over Saudi Arabia’s refusal to consider a prohibition on its ability to pursue uranium enrichment and plutonium processing.