Jordan makes effort to maintain peaceful nuclear ambition

AMMAN, JORDAN - Jordan, an energy-poor country, has made great efforts to live up to its peaceful nuclear ambition in the year of 2008.

Unlike its oil-rich neighbors, Jordan faces grave energy challenges as it lacks conventional energy resources, with scarcity of water.

Currently, about 96 percent of the country's energy needs were met by imports from neighboring states, mainly Saudi Arabia and Egypt, at a cost of some 20 percent of its gross domestic products.

In a drive to reduce the country's dependence on imported hydrocarbons, the government mapped out a nuclear energy program last year, under which Jordan will have its first nuclear reactor up and running by 2016, with more to be built in the years leading up to 2030.

By that time, 30 percent of the kingdom's electricity needs will be met by nuclear power stations, with excess production to be made available for export, according to the strategy.

In order to seek international help on pumping nuclear energy, Jordan has managed to win supports from the UN nuclear watch dog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United States and the European Union among others, while inking a series of cooperation deals with countries like France, Canada, Britain, China and South Korea.

Jordan entered into a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with France at the end of May, which was followed by a comprehensive cooperation agreement in late August, under which France promised to help Jordan build water desalination plants to generate electricity in exchange for uranium mining rights in the kingdom.

In a parallel deal with French nuclear giant Areva, a joint venture is established to exploit uranium in the kingdom, with exclusive right in the central Jordan.

The agreement with Areva covers not just mining but all aspects of cooperation in the field of peaceful nuclear energy, said Khalid Toukan, who heads the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission and steers the kingdom's nuclear energy plan.

On June 28, Jordan signed a MoU with Canada's Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) and SNC-Lavalin International, one of the world's largest engineering and construction firms.

According to Toukan, the MoU with Canada aims to help Jordan assess the feasibility of the introduction of a Canada Deuterium Uranium (CANDU) nuclear power program, which includes engineering and economic studies along with assessments on infrastructure development, site selection, fuel fabrication facilities, technology transfer, manpower training and the potential use of indigenous uranium resources in the program.

The MoU with Canada is traced by a similar one with Britain. Under the preliminary deal, Britain and Jordan will jointly promote "the establishment of a reliable source of nuclear fuel for future civilian light water nuclear reactors" in the kingdom.

Cooperation between the two sides also covers developing human resources and nuclear safety, as well as generating power and desalinating water through nuclear energy, Toukan said.

Jordan also entered into an agreement with China on nuclear cooperation on Aug. 20, under which the two sides will conduct cooperation in areas such as basic and applied researches, nuclear plant designing, mineral exploration, processing, and mining uranium.

South Korea is also keen to provide nuclear expertise to Jordan. The two sides signed a draft deal on nuclear cooperation in late October.

Among collaborations with international partners, the cooperation with France seems to have swung into full gear as Jordan intends to buy a nuclear reactor from France.

In addition, the French giant Areva was expected to start uranium drilling in central Jordan in November to identify the locations of crude uranium, Toukan said in October.

Following a feasibility study after exploring, work will begin to usher in a uranium mine with actual production expected to start in 2012 at an annual rate of 2,000 tons, he added.

On Nov. 2, Jordan's Prime Minister Nader Dahabi and visiting Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon discussed plans to join hands to build a nuclear plant, with a timetable mentioned.

The talks also covered Areva's key role in helping Jordan raise sufficient funds for construction and operation of the nuclear power facility.

Though Jordan is deprived of conventional energy resources, it has relatively rich uranium deposits. Official estimates put the kingdom's proven uranium and phosphate reserves to around 2 percent of the world's total, which is enough to fuel Jordan's nuclear ambition.

Official data on specific quantity of reserves fluctuates sometimes since much is still unexplored, but Toukan revealed at a symposium in Yarmok University in October that only central Jordan has been somewhat explored with estimated uranium reserve between 37,500 tons to 70,000 tons.

Deposits in the area are mainly on the surface with average thickness of 1.5 meter with overburden of around 0.5 meter, which is easy to mine as bearing material is fine grained and brittle, he added.

On uranium in phosphates, he put the deposits at between 100,000 and 140,000 tons.

Wali Kurdi, Chairman and CEO of the Jordan Phosphate Mines Company said earlier in the year that the Jordanian phosphate used in manufacturing phosphoric acid contains about 50 to 100 parts per million (ppm) of uranium that can be extracted via modern technological methods.

According to Jordan's energy strategy, unveiled last May, the country's electricity demand by 2020 may reach about 5,770 mw from2,100 mw in 2007, while primary energy needs could jump to 15 million tons of oil from 7.6 million tons.

This poses heavy strains on the kingdom's economy and security, making development of secure alternative energy supplies such as nuclear energy become a top priority for the government.

However, key to the success of Jordan's nuclear energy program is to ensure that the country has the technical expertise to manage a nuclear future.

In efforts to build up nuclear manpower, Jordan's University of Science and Technology has established a nuclear engineering department with first graduates expected to hold bachelor of science degrees in 2011, according to the department chairman Ned Xoubi.

Meanwhile, Jordan also has an active training program with IAEA in nuclear safety, security and safeguards.

The Jordanian University (JU), Yarmouk University (YU) and Al-Balqa Applied University (BAU) have started master of science programs in nuclear physics and medical physics.


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