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Jordan’s nuclear option

Following a series of meetings last week with the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) in Amman, Jordan has announced plans for the Kingdom’s first uranium mine, taking the first steps in its much discussed nuclear energy program.

According to Dr Khalid Touqan, president of the Jordan Nuclear Energy Commission (JNEC), Jordan will solicit bids for the design and construction of the mine by the end of the year. The mine is slated to be operational by 2012.

While it lacks the hydrocarbon reserves of its eastern neighbors, Jordan does benefit from large deposits of uranium—it has an estimated 70,000 tonnes of proven reserves worth some $7 billion, according to the government—which is more than sufficient to provide feedstock for both domestic usage and export. The majority of its reserves are currently clustered in the central regions of Jordan but an additional 100,000 tonnes can be found in the Kingdom’s extensive phosphate deposits. In total, Jordan’s uranium reserves amount to 2 percent of the world’s total.

Last week’s GNEP summit in Amman marked the first time Jordan has hosted the multinational energy collaborative. With 21 partner countries, the GNEP was started in 2006 as a means of encouraging the peaceful exploitation of nuclear power while reducing the risks of nuclear proliferation and spent nuclear fuel. Jordan, the sole MENA-region participant, championed a working group to encourage the development of grid-appropriate reactors, smaller units often suggested for countries with limited resources and energy demand.

Faced with rising crude prices, Jordan has recently begun fast-tracking its nuclear program, in order to diversify its fuel dependency and provide energy for electricity generation and water desalination. The Kingdom is aiming to have one nuclear reactor up and running by 2015, and has discussed plans to build more by 2030. By that date, according to the Higher Committee for Nuclear Strategy, 30 percent of the country’s electricity needs will be met by nuclear power stations, with excess production available for export. The committee has also outlined plans for reprocessing spent fuel and funding related research.

Jordan plans to issue an international tender for the design and construction of a nuclear reactor by the end of 2008, Touqan told the local press on May 9. Companies from the US, the UK, France and Russia have expressed interest in participating in the bidding process, while a South Korean delegation last week offered to provide Jordan with a ready-made nuclear reactor. According to the Ministry of Energy, Jordan’s first reactor will be of modest size, around 400MW.

Given its lack of experience in atomic energy, Jordan is holding talks with a number of countries to solicit technological assistance for various phases of its nuclear program, including the US, France, South Korea, China and Russia. Jordan already inked an agreement last year with Kazakhstan spelling out terms of cooperation for uranium exploration.

Following negotiations last week with the Canadian government and nuclear industry representatives, Jordan looks set to conclude a nuclear energy cooperation agreement with Canada by the end of the summer. SNC-Lavalin International, a Canadian engineering and mining company, is currently negotiating the extraction of uranium reserves from the country’s phosphate deposits, while delegates from Atomic Energy of Canada, a nuclear technology company, have also expressed an interest in designing Jordan’s first nuclear reactor.

Ultimately, the need for diversified energy sources is a crucial one. With over 95 percent of its fuel needs met through imports, the Kingdom’s economy is particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in global commodity markets. The government has very little room to maneuver, as its current energy policy cannot be readily adjusted to minimize the effect of price hikes or inflation. The recent rise in crude costs has already had a significant impact on commodity prices within the Kingdom—the annual inflation rate is expected to jump to at least 8 percent this year from last year’s 5.4 percent.

Marseille,05 28 2008
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