Jordan selects Russian nuclear power supplier

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

Russia's Rosatom has been selected as the preferred bidder to supply Jordan with its first nuclear power plant. The first 1000 MW reactor of the two-unit plant is expected to start operating in 2020 − though there isn't the "slightest chance" of that deadline being met according to Prof. Steve Thomas from the University of Greenwich in London.[1]

Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom will build the AES-92 model VVER-1000 reactors, Rosatom's reactor export subsidiary AtomStroyExport will be the supplier of nuclear technology, and Rusatom Overseas will be strategic partner and operator of the plant. Russia will contribute 49% of the cost of the project, reportedly to be US$10 billion, with the Jordanian government providing the remaining 51%. However, financing has yet to be finalised and Russia could supply the plant on a build-own-operate basis.[2]

Siting remains unclear. Khaled Toukan, chair of the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC), said the nuclear power plant is to be built in Jordan's Amra region, 60 kms east of the city of Zarqa. But Rosatom says the plant is to be sited near the city of Irbid, 70 kms north of Amman.[2]

In August, Jordan gave the go-ahead for a 5 MW(th) nuclear research reactor at the Jordan University for Sciences and Technology near the northern city of Irbid. Jordan's atomic agency chief Majad Hawwari said: "The reactor will help the commission build expertise and capabilities to prepare for constructing nuclear power plants in the future."[3]

In May 2012, Jordan's parliament voted to suspend the country's nuclear and uranium exploration programs, thus endorsing the recommendations of a parliamentary energy committee which accused the JAEC of "hiding facts" related to the cost of the projected nuclear reactor and deliberately omitting the cost of works other than construction.[4,5] According to Haaretz, the vote reflected "financial worries and amid rising anti-nuclear movement in the Jordan."[6] King Abdullah's government was legally obliged to adhere to the parliamentary vote − but ignored it anyway.

There are concerns that the pursuit of nuclear power is coming at the expense of expanding Jordan's renewable energy sector. Safa Al Jayoussi and Basel Burgan from Jordanian Friends of the Environment say that Jordan has 330 days of sunshine a year and is the perfect candidate for solar. "The European Union is hiring out land in North Africa for solar projects," Burgan said. "So why are we turning to nuclear without exploring the possibilities of using solar?"[7]

Jordanian environmental writer Batir Wardam argues that renewable energy "potential is in danger of being wasted due to the strong influence of the nuclear energy lobby in Jordan, which has managed to position their project as a top priority and marginalized the renewable energy sector."[8]

Ali Kassay, a member of the Coalition for Nuclear Free Jordan, told AFP: "We are very afraid of this project because it's dangerous to the entire country, people, the environment, and economy. We do not see a need for it. It's illogical to build a nuclear plant in a country known historically for earthquakes, as well as lack of capabilities, funds, human resources and water. ... There are cheaper, better and safer alternatives."[13]

Other risks with the nuclear program include sabotage and terrorism. The Arab Gas Pipeline, which transports natural gas from Egypt to Jordan, has been attacked numerous times in recent years.[9]

Environmentalist Rauf Dabbas expressed concern at the lack of community consultation, the inadequate institutional capacity to closely monitor a nuclear power program, and the marginalisation of the ministries of health and the environment in the nuclear project. "There are also security concerns," Dabbas said. "The plant's site is located near main roads linking Jordan to Iraq and Saudi Arabia."[13]

Jordan has signed nuclear cooperation agreements with France, Canada, UK, Russia, China, South Korea, Japan, Spain, Italy, Romania, Turkey and Argentina.[10] A nuclear cooperation agreement with US is under negotiation, though the US wants Jordan to emulate the United Arab Emirates and rule out 'sensitive nuclear technologies' (SNT) − uranium enrichment and reprocessing. Jordan is reportedly unwilling to agree to an SNT ban [11] though there were hints in early 2012 that perhaps Jordan would agree to a ban.[12]

One possible outcome is a non-legally-binding 'commitment' from Jordan that it will not develop sensitive nuclear technologies. JAEC vice-chair Kamal Araj said on November 11 that Jordan's desire to retain the right to enrich uranium had impeded the completion of an agreement with the US. Araj said: "We signed it a long time ago, but till now we have not finalised [it]. There was the issue of this gold standard and enrichment processing and I think we will find a solution for that. We wanted to retain the right for enrichment, although we are not going to exercise it in the future." He said Jordan wanted to be able to establish nuclear fuel fabrication facilities in the future when it becomes economical to do so.[17]

Jordan is sometimes mentioned in discussions about proliferation in the Middle East, as one of the countries that may be developing a nuclear program as a hedge against Iran.

Water worries

The two power reactors may be used for desalination as well as electricity generation.[2] However cooling water supply is a problem. An OilPrice articles notes that "what may ultimately doom Jordan's nuclear ambitions, however, is a resource even more scarce in the Kingdom than uranium – water." Jordan's water minister Hazem Nasser has noted that Jordan is "at the edge of moving from a chronic water problem into a water crisis."[9] For a two-unit plant, daily consumption (net loss) of water would be between 73 million litres and 131 million litres.[14]

According to the World Nuclear Association, site options with seawater cooling are limited to 30 kms of Red Sea coast near Aqaba. Sites with access to Red Sea cooling water were considered but in 2010 the proposed location for the first power reactor became Al Amra, about 40 kms north of Amman, due to better seismic characteristics. Cooling water will come from the municipal Khirbet Al Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant, with the cooling system modeled on that at Palo Verde in Arizona, USA, which also uses wastewater for cooling.[10]

Safa Al Jayoussi from Greenpeace Jordan says Jordan is one of the five driest countries in the world and asks how reactor cooling can be maintained in the "likely" event of shortages from the waste water plant.[1]

In the Middle East, Jordan, UAE and Saudi Arabia are pursuing nuclear power programs, while plans to introduce nuclear power to Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain have been abandoned.[15] World Nuclear News lists a swag of Middle Eastern and North African countries that "began to develop nuclear plans but have put these on the back-burner", including Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria and Libya.[16] Iran is the only country in the region with an operating power reactor.

[1] 'Jordanians protest plans to go nuclear', 14 June 2013,
[2] WNN, 29 Oct 2013, 'Jordan selects its nuclear technology',
[3] Energy Business Review, 22 Aug 2013,
[4] Raed Omari, 30 May 2012, 'Deputies vote to suspend nuclear project',
[5] Hanan Al Kiswany, 11 July 2012, 'Jordan's nuclear programme comes under fire',
[6] Haaretz, 30 May 2012, 'Jordanian parliament votes to suspend nuclear power program',
[7] 'Jordanians protest plans to go nuclear', 14 June 2013,
[8] Batir Wardam, 2013, 'Jordan seeks a "solar-torch" from Germany',
[9] John Daly, 17 June 2013, 'Water Shortages May End Jordan's Nuclear Power Hopes',
[10] WNA, 'Nuclear Power in Jordan', accessed October 2013,
[13] 5 Nov 2013, 'Jordanians fret over 'dangerous' nuclear plan',
[14] 'How much water does a nuclear power plant consume?', Nuclear Monitor #770, 24 Oct 2013,
[15] Andrew Roscoe, 7 Nov 2013, 'Reviving the nuclear debate in Jordan'
[16] WNN, 18 Sept 2013,
[17] Dania Saadi, 12 Nov 2013, 'Jordan wants to retain uranium enrichment right, official says',