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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 practises 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.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe bows in front of the memorial cenotaph for atomic bombing victims during a ceremony to mark the 70th anniversary at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park in Japan on August 6, 2015. PHOTO: AFP TOKYO: Japan on Sunday marked 72 years since the world´s first nuclear attack on Hiroshima, with the nation´s traditional contradictions over atomic weapons again coming into focus. The anniversary came after Japan sided last month with nuclear powers Britain, France and the US to dismiss a UN treaty banning atomic weapons, which was rejected by critics for ignoring the reality of security threats such as North Korea. Japan is the only country to have suffered atomic attacks, in 1945. Paper lanterns floating on the Motoyasu River in front of the Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima on August 6, 2015. PHOTO: AFP Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, speaking at the annual ceremony at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park near the ground zero, said Japan hoped to push for a world without nuclear weapons in a way that all countries can agree. "For us to truly pursue a world without nuclear weapons, we need participation from both nuclear-weapons and non-nuclear weapons states," Abe said in his speech at the annual ceremony. "Our country is committed to leading the international community by encouraging both sides" to make progress toward abolishing nuclear arms, Abe added without directly referring to the UN treaty. Japanese officials have criticised the UN Nuclear Weapon Ban Treaty as deepening a divide between countries with and without nuclear arms. None of the nine countries that possess nuclear weapons took part in the negotiations or vote on the treaty. People in Hiroshima praying for the victims of the 1945 atomic bombing on August 6, 2015 to mark the event's 70th anniversary. PHOTO: AFP1 Japanese officials routinely argue that they abhor nuclear weapons, but the nation´s defence is firmly set under the US nuclear umbrella. Japan suffered two nuclear attacks at the end of the World War II by the United States -- in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 and in Nagasaki three days later. The bombings claimed the lives of 140,000 people in Hiroshima and 74,000 people in Nagasaki. Some died immediately while others succumbed to injuries or radiation-related illnesses weeks, months and years later. Japan announced its surrender in World War II on August 15, 1945. Many in Japan feel the attacks amount to war crimes and atrocities because they targeted civilians and due to the unprecedented destructive nature of the weapons. But many Americans believe they hastened the end of a bloody conflict, and ultimately saved lives, thus justifying the bombings. Barack Obama became the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima in May last year, paying moving tribute to victims of the devastating bomb.