Dual dilemma from water and security

Jordan has geographical obstacles to overcome in its energy requirements, LeAnne Graves reports

Jordan advanced its nuclear power ambitions after striking a deal with Russia last week, but reliable access to water and financing remains in question.

The Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) and the Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation moved forward with plans first announced in 2013 with an agreement for the framework to construct two nuclear reactors that will add 2,000 megawatts of power to the Arab country’s grid.


The agreement will establish a joint venture company that will handle the operation, supply and distribution of the power plant. Rosatom expects the project to cost in the area of US$10 billion, with Rosatom and JAEC almost splitting the costs down the middle. It is not clear how the funds will be raised.

While international institutions such as the World Bank and its financial lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) do not fund nuclear energy projects, they could be options for ancillary schemes such as the development of water supply systems for a plant.

“In principle, we can consider water and wastewater investments in Jordan, but we need to assess the merits of these projects in due course,” said Ahmed Attiga, IFC country manager in Jordan.

The nuclear reactors will be in Amra, located 70 kilometres east of Amman, in the eastern desert. Jordan already faces a water deficit of about 600 million cubic metres annually. Water is necessary for nuclear power plants as an agent to help in the cooling process.

“Water supply is the paramount issue,” Rosatom said.

A US nuclear expert said that the selected location in the eastern desert without sufficient water supplies did not make “economic sense”.

“The lack of water flow is what caused the explosions at Japan’s Fukushima,” said Paul Sullivan, professor at Georgetown University. The most recent nuclear meltdown occurred four years ago in Japan. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant experienced meltdowns at its three reactors after an earthquake and tsunami hit the island.

Jonathan Cobb, spokesman for the World Nuclear Association (WNA), said that Jordan would secure cooling water from the Khirbet Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant. The plant currently produces 267,000 cubic metres a day, but an expansion project with France’s Degrémont is expected to be complete in July. The treated water would increase to 367,000 cubic metres a day, according to the Degrémont Middle East chief executive Pierre Pauliac.

This type of arrangement is not unprecedented, Mr Cobb said.

The Palo Verde nuclear generating plant, located in the Arizona desert, uses 220 millions of litres per day of treated water that is pumped 70km from Phoenix.

By those calculations, Mr Cobb said that the Khirbet plant would supply enough water to cool the proposed plant.

“It’s hard to give precise figures as it will depend on conditions from reactor to reactor, but the proposed supply seems more than sufficient,” he said.

Jordan needs nuclear power to meet its rising energy demand as currently it imports over 95 per cent of its energy. The country generates 2,400MW of electricity, but it will need 8,000MW by 2030.

However, with the proposed nuclear power plant located only about 200km from the borders of both Iraq and Syria, security is a concern.

“Geopolitics seems to be the bigger issue. Jordan sits in the eye of the Middle East storm, including so-called US allies,” said Akira Tokuhiro, nuclear energy expert at the University of Idaho.

WNA’s Mr Cobb said that while security was always a top concern, there are already well used practices available to mitigate the potential for attacks.

“Measures are taken around the world to ensure nuclear plants are protected from terrorism,” he said.

But Georgtown’s Mr Sullivan warned that “there is a good likelihood for nuclear power for electricity in Jordan if stability prevails. Otherwise, all bets are off”.

It has also been unclear if the US will insist that Jordan follows the example of the UAE and sign a “gold standard” 123 Agreement not to pursue uranium enrichment reprocessing capabilities.

Section 123 of the US Atomic Energy Act requires the conclusion of a specific agreement for significant transfers of nuclear material, equipment, or components from the US to another nation.

Jordan has said it wants to keep its options open in this regard but not signing such a deal will impact what kind of technology it can utilise at its proposed plant.

lgraves@thenational.ae

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