Here’s my latest piece for DW. It’s actually a collaboration with another journalist – Vanessa O’Brien who helped with the audio to accompany the online article. Check out the audio piece here: Jordan expands its nuclear plans.
As Jordan works on plans to build its first nuclear plant, protestors are still criticizing the country’s decision to go nuclear in the first place. They say it wastes water and ignores the nation’s renewables potential.
Safa Al Jayoussi, an activist with Greenpeace in Jordan, becomes concerned when she starts to explain why Jordan won’t be able to cope with the country’s impending turn towards nuclear power. She says Jordan is one of the five driest countries in the world and that the new power plans are just going to put the nation under even more pressure.
“Nuclear power plants require large quantities of cooling water, usually from a large river or a large lake,” she told DW. “But, in Jordan, we don’t really have any sources of water.”
She’s also worried about a possible nuclear disaster, similar to what happened at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011.
“It is proposed that grey water be used from a waste water plant for cooling,” Al Jayoussi explains. “Any shortage in water from that facility, which is likely to happen, will cause a huge problem very much like what we saw in Fukushima.”
Plans taking shape
Back in 2009, Jordan’s newly formed Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) declared its plans to build five nuclear reactors for the country. The first would be operational by 2020, they said, and would generate 44 percent of Jordan’s energy mix.
A hot and arid country sandwiched between Israel and Syria, Jordan doesn’t boast substantial oil reserves of its own. In fact, according to government officials, in 2012 the country imported 95 percent of its energy. It’s this dependency that the country hopes to solve with nuclear reactors.
“Right now, we pay around $1.8 billion (1.35 billion euros) a year for the additional electricity Jordan imports,” explains Kamal Araj, Vice Chairman of the JAEC.
Araj argues that nuclear power will bring energy security to Jordan, something that it has struggled with in the past.
“Nuclear runs for 60 years and although there’s a lot of fluctuation in the oil pricing or gas and diesel pricing, for nuclear the price is fixed for a lifetime,” he said, in interview with DW. Araj says that, in his view, renewables aren’t viable as “they only run for 25 to 30 years.”
When the first plant opens, Jordan plans to buy the electricity from the plant’s operator at a fixed unit price, considerably cheaper than the price the state pays now for electricity.
What about solar?
But Safa Al Jayoussi and Basel Burgan from the environmental group, Jordanian Friends of the Environment, both disagree with Araj’s appraisal of renewables. Jordan has 330 days of sunshine a year and is, according to Burgan, the perfect candidate for solar.
“The European Union is hiring out land in North Africa for solar projects,” he said. “So why are we turning to nuclear without exploring the possibilities of using solar? For one, solar has become cheaper.”
Professor Steve Thomas, a nuclear policy expert from the University of Greenwich in London, also questions the argument that renewables aren’t a realistic option for Jordan.
“Although the government have been saying that they aren’t viable, what really isn’t viable is their nuclear plans,” he told DW.
Thomas doubts whether Jordan will be able to get finance for the nuclear project due to the country’s weak credit rating. And, he’s concerned about whether there will be proper design and safety reviews of the plants.
“They don’t have the slightest chance of achieving their 2020 deadline,” he said.
The rising need
In Jordan’s capital, Amman, ceiling fans whirr inside crowded shops, music blares and young men gather on corners talking on their mobile phones. The busy streets here are alive, and the energy bills of the country are growing every year.
Despite a recent parliamentary motion to halt all works on the nuclear reactors and the complaints of activists, the plans for nuclear power in Jordan seem to be forging ahead. The personal involvement of Jordan’s King Abdullah II has no doubt helped dampen any dissent.
Kamal Araj of JAEC says that construction on the first reactor won’t start until 2017 and admits his organization face lots of challenges before then.
“In those four years there will be discussion about contracts, location studies and a work agreement,” Araj said.
“A lot of countries have gone through this and decided not to build. We are not going to cancel. But, we want to make sure that all the conditions are conducive to building a safe and cost-effective nuclear plant before we start,” he said.