In a move which brings Jordan’s controversial nuclear energy program a big step closer to reality, the government recently signed a $10 billion agreement with Russia’s Rosatom to build the Kingdom’s first nuclear power plant.
Chairman of the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission Khaled Toukan believes nuclear power has a vital role to play in weaning the Kingdom off its overwhelming reliance on expensive oil and gas imports.
What does the agreement with Rosatom entail?
The Russian-Jordanian intergovernmental agreement nails the principles that will govern the construction of the project and its future years of operation. The first of the two 1,000-megawatt reactors is expected to be up and running by 2022, with the second following one year later. We demanded that the total cost of the project, which includes the infrastructure of the water cooling towers, emergency ponds, two nuclear reactors, and electrical systems, should not exceed $10 billion. Russia will meet 49.9 percent of the project’s costs and Jordan the remaining 50.1 percent. Rosatom will supply fuel for 10 years. After that, it will be up to us to look for more competitive bids. All the nuclear waste will be sent to Russia for treatment.
Jordan must guarantee a supply of water for the estimated 60 years lifetime of the plant, its security, and the purchase of the electricity produced by the two 1,000 MW reactors for an 18-years payback period. The power purchase agreement has not been negotiated yet.
How much energy will the plants generate?
If the reactors were operational today, they would provide almost two-thirds of the country’s base load. But the plant will be operational in seven and eight years. So by that time, estimations suggest that they will generate 40 percent of the country’s total electricity.
Why did you choose Amra for the location of the plant?
The 16 square-kilometer area chosen for the plant in the country’s north has a very low seismic activity level compared to other areas of the country. It’s in the desert and far from marine life. Earthquakes might happen everywhere in the world at any moment, but new generation plants are built to resist them. Rosatom has promised to use Russia’s 70 years of experience with nuclear energy, as well as post-Fukushima lessons to build the plant.
The plants will need a lot of water to run. Where will it come from?
We will use a closed loop system. This means the same water keeps circulating inside the system and gets cooled through a fan, like in a car’s radiator. In this model, the water consumption is reduced to 20 million cubic meters per each reactor. We will take the majority of the water from the Al-Samra Waste Water Treatment Plant in nearby Irbid. Al-Samra is undergoing expansion and will soon reach capacity at 160 million cubic meters of water and provide the plant with some 30 million cubic meters.
Wouldn’t it be possible to make a better use of the renewable energy available in the country instead of going nuclear?
Renewable energy comes intermittently. One cannot generate electricity 24 hours a day or store it. So far, solar energy cannot provide more than two percent of Jordan’s electricity needs. Technology is simply not available yet for these purposes. If countries like Germany have started a nuclear phase-out, it is because they have alternatives. Jordan does not.