x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Jordan expects compromise with US on nuclear plans

Jordan expects to reach a compromise with the US on its nuclear power plans by the end of the year, according to a senior official.

France’s nuclear power plant at Civaux was built by Areva, one of the contenders to build the station.
France’s nuclear power plant at Civaux was built by Areva, one of the contenders to build the station.

Compromise plan Power agreement would pave way for construction contract Chris Stanton Jordan expects to reach a compromise with the US on its nuclear power plans by the end of the year, paving the way for the award of a reactor construction contract several months later, a senior official said yesterday. The kingdom wants to become the second Arab state after the UAE to harness civilian nuclear power but has yet to receive US approval, considered crucial for securing key components and technology as well as assuring worldwide political acceptance.

The agreement has stalled over Jordan's reluctance to give up its right under international law to enrich large uranium reserves that the country discovered in 2007. But Kamal Khdier, the director of planning for the Jordanian atomic energy commission, yesterday stressed the potential for a compromise that would allow Jordan to maintain its formal right but decline to exercise it for decades. "Both the US and Jordan are looking to be in a more compromising situation regarding this issue," he said in Dubai on the sidelines of a conference on nuclear energy.

"We are not in a situation that we have to enrich uranium … it's not going to happen for 20 years," Mr Khdier said. "But at the same time we are not going to give up our right. In the future the technology might change. Why should we give up this right straight from the beginning?" The UAE, by contrast, pledged never to enrich uranium on its soil in a bid to satisfy the world community that it had no interest in building an atomic weapon.

Jordan put great weight on reaching an agreement with Washington, Mr Khdier said. "For the political atmosphere … to sit right, we need to sign an agreement with all the major players in the nuclear business," he said. "Although [US companies] are not bidding for the nuclear power plant, there is still a lot of equipment and materials that can be exported from the United States." Jordan has already reached similar co-operation agreements with France, China, South Korea, Canada, Russia, the UK, Argentina, Spain and Japan, Mr Khdier said.

The Jordanian atomic energy commission is evaluating three bids from foreign companies to build and operate the country's first nuclear power station by the end of the decade. The contenders include Atomic Energy of Canada, Russia's Atomstroyexport and a joint bid by Areva of France and Mitsubishi of Japan. Jordan will expect the foreign partner to operate the plant for at least five years, provide training to Jordanians and help finance the construction, Mr Khdier said.

The country lacks the large financial resources of the UAE and is likely to have to pay more to finance the plant, according to estimates by Ashok Pasricha, a senior technical adviser at the US Export-Import Bank, a government-backed institution that lends money to buyers of US exports. Under a hypothetical US$5 billion (Dh18.36bn), 18-year loan from the bank, the UAE would pay an "all-in cost" of 2.91 per cent, while Jordan would pay 4.13 per cent, he said.

The Jordanian government was weighing various models in which it would put up enough equity to own 50 or 70 per cent of the plant and then would help to fund the project with revenue from uranium exports, Mr Khdier said. But the main factor was ensuring that the cost of producing electricity in 10 years was competitive with rates from conventional sources, which now average about five US cents a kilowatt-hour, he said.

"We are not going to build a nuclear power plant just for the sake of building it," he told the conference. "Essentially, we need cheap electricity." cstanton@thenational.ae