x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Jordan expects to receive bids next month for nuclear reactor

Jordan fears regional instability could scare investors away from its first nuclear power plant, which it hopes will be largely financed by the private sector.

Jordan is pressing ahead with plans for its first nuclear power plant despite concerns that private investors will be put off by regional instability.

The kingdom expects to receive bids next month from foreign partners to build its first reactor.

Eight companies had informally expressed interest in the project before political discontent began rocking the region, but that number could shrink, said an electricity official.

"Financing - it is one of the major challenges for our nuclear programme," said Bahjat Aulimat, the generation planning section head of National Electric Power, the state utility. "Some people may find it difficult to invest in such countries, especially after the unrest."

Jordan declared its desire to develop nuclear power in 2007 but has so far given out concessions only for uranium exploration and mining. The small nation's estimated 80,000 tonnes of uranium reserves, believed to be the 11th biggest in the world, are one of the few energy resources inside its borders apart from small amounts of natural gas and shale oil. The shale oil is currently under development. The kingdom spends the equivalent of 12 per cent of its GDP on energy imports.

"We have a good source of uranium," said Mr Aulimat, who was in Dubai for a conference on regional nuclear development. "We need to use these resources."

Jordan made clear its priority on nuclear power in February during a cabinet reshuffle. The then-minister of energy was replaced by Dr Khaled Toukan, a nuclear engineer and chairman of the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission.

Earlier that month Jordan had invited bids for a partner for the first nuclear plant.

Under the latest plan, Jordan would cover 25 to 51 per cent of the equity in a joint venture company created to build and run one or two 1,000 megawatt reactors. Those would be the first of as many as five proposed nuclear reactors, with the first scheduled to come online in 2020.

Just one reactor would be able to meet almost a quarter of Jordan's projected power demand, said Mr Aulimat.

About 70 per cent of the project would be financed by debt, with export credit agencies providing much of the funding, he said. Dr Toukan was not available for comment yesterday.

Such financing would echo the UAE's model for its nuclear programme, in which South Korea's export-import bank backed a large chunk of the US$20 billion (Dh73.46bn) required to build the plant.

ayee@thenational.ae