x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Jordan to use UAE as template for its own nuclear future

But it will not forgo its right to enrich uranium domestically in its bid to become the second Arab nation to build a civilian nuclear energy programme.

Workers building a nuclear plant in South Korea, which along with Canada, France, Japan and Russia is in contention in Jordan. Seokyong Lee for The National
Workers building a nuclear plant in South Korea, which along with Canada, France, Japan and Russia is in contention in Jordan. Seokyong Lee for The National

AMMAN // Jordan will use the Emirates as a role model in its bid to become the second Arab nation to build a civilian nuclear energy programme, but Amman has no plans to follow Abu Dhabi in forgoing uranium enrichment. The UAE chose not to enrich its own fuel, a process that can be used to produce weapons but is vital to the production of most civilian reactor fuels, to ensure it secured international backing to access foreign know-how and technology.

Dr Khaled Toukan, the chairman of the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC), said: "We in Jordan are watching this experiment - indeed the experiment in Abu Dhabi is very interesting for us because it's the first in the Middle East. But I should mention our approach is different." The Jordanian government will not give up its right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to enrich uranium, Dr Toukan said.

"This is unacceptable to us, we don't see any justification," he said. "We are part of the NPT regime, so why should you relinquish your right under the NPT for nothing in return? "And the fact is that we have big quantities of uranium and I'm sure Jordan will be a big source of uranium in the future. Jordan might become an international centre for uranium enrichment." The UAE's pledge to forgo enrichment was crucial to the Government's success in reaching a nuclear co-operation agreement with the US, which has the world's largest nuclear industry and is an important supplier of components and expertise.

But Dr Toukan predicted Jordan would be able to finalise its own co-operation agreement with the Americans within two years, even without giving up enrichment. The programme in Jordan is smaller than Abu Dhabi's, and will also require significant foreign investment. Officials expect to choose a foreign partner later this year to help finance and build the first reactors. The JAEC will narrow the field of potential partners to two by the middle of next month and make a final decision by the end of the year, said Dr Kamal Araj, the vice chairman of the commission.

Companies from Canada, France, Japan, Russia and South Korea have all publicly expressed interest in the project, with Areva of France and Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) in a replay of last year's competition for a US$20 billion (Dh73.46bn) nuclear contract, in which the Koreans ultimately triumphed. The foreign partner chosen for the programme is likely to own about 40 per cent of the reactor and have a stake in the operating company, he said. This contrasts with Abu Dhabi's approach, in which the Government is fully financing the reactor cost but has tapped KEPCO to be the prime contractor. The structure of partnerships for operations and fuel have not yet been disclosed.

"In the Abu Dhabi case it's a total [engineering, procurement and construction] contract financed by Abu Dhabi. In our case, actually no, we are talking about a public-private partnership where we are being strategic partners to come and be an owner and operator of the plant," Dr Araj said. The reactor cost could be partially financed by revenues from uranium mining that Jordan has begun in the middle of the country in partnership with Areva, he said.

"We could use some of the uranium revenues as collateral for an equity portion," heDr Araj said. Jordan hopes to have two reactors operating in 15 years, and four reactors online by 2040 to reduce the country's dependence on imported oil and gas and meet growing demand for electricity, he said. "Our vision is to use nuclear power to transform Jordan from a net energy importer to a net energy exporter by 2030. "We believe that despite all the challenges Jordan faces, such as the high investment cost, our limited coastline and the volatile political environment in the region, Jordan will ultimately succeed."

@Email:cstanton@thenational.ae