News & Current AffairsOpinion

Jordan Flirts with Nuclear Energy, Though Process Remains Opaque

By: Max
March 28, 2012

One year after Fukushima’s warning to the world, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan moves ever closer to the construction of a nuclear energy power plant. Jordan’s King Abdullah recently returned from a nuclear power summit in South Korea where, according to King Abdullah’s press release, he engaged in talks “in line with Jordan’s compliance and commitment to the requirements of nuclear security in its endeavor to utilize atomic energy to reduce its reliance on imports.”

Fukishima, March 2011

Not even the most adamant proponents of nuclear energy, however, claim that it is benign. Nuclear accidents can gravely affect environmental and public health, and can be especially crippling due to their invisibility.  

Given the inherent risks of nuclear programs, nuclear energy must be the fruit of an informed decision making process of the population vulnerable to this invisible threat. Such consent, in turn, must be informed: people are entitled to public information detailing the health risks of leakage or radiation. This process does not happen in many places. The deep misinformation during the March 2011 nuclear crisis, for instance, has cast a deep shadow over many nuclear power projects—especially given Japan’s reputation for its nuclear power experience and high security standards.

Jordan aims to reduce its energy dependency by producing a third of its energy through nuclear sources by 2040. While this goal is public, the details of the program remain unclear. Information is not publicly available, and no public consultation process has been undertaken.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Ministry of Energy announced in March that Jordan will soon decide to whom it will grant rights to Jordan’s nuclear market. Contenders include France’s Areva SA (AREVA.FR), Russia’s Atomstroyexport and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. In January, however, AFP reported that a consortium under the lead of Korean Company KEPCO had been granted a 800 billion contract to built Jordan’s first nuclear power plant. Such conflicting reports underscore the opacity of Jordan’s nuclear program; it seems impossible to access reliable information on whether, where, by whom, and when nuclear energy would be used.

Beyond the primary issue of transparency, additional major concerns remain, including:

  •  From where will Jordan get the water to cool such a plant, given that it ranks amongst the world’s four most water scarce countries?
  • What are the evacuation plans, given Jordan’s small territory and concentrated population?
  •  What contingencies are being advanced to secure Jordan’s slim strip of agricultural land, which would be in danger of permanent contamination?

FoEME believes that reform in the interconnected electricity and water sectors are top priority, given their propensity to illegal withdrawals and inefficient use. Jordan’s real path to sustainable well-being and energy independence does not lie under its sand in uranium mines, but in the sun shining on it.

solar panels

This post was written by FoEME’s Nora Muller and Tara Siegel. They are based in the Amman office.

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