Why are we against nuclear power in Jordan?

Three days ago, Jordan wittnessed its first anti-nuclear set-in. Not a spectacle in terms of number of people and methods applied, the participants comprised many concerend Jordanian citizens who are worried of the highly dangerous potential impacts of nuclear energy in Jordan. This group of citizens included a modest and knowledgeable activist with the name of HRH Princess Basma Bint Ali, who is the head of the Royal Botanical Garden and the Jordanian Society for the Protection of Marine Environment (JREDS). It also included people from various disciplines of life, connected with their fear about the future of the country.

There are many reasons why we are AGAINST the deployment of nuclear energy in Jordan. Here are some of them, and I promise not to use the words “Chernobyl”, “Three Mile Island” and “Fukoshima” just for the sake of getting a more local perspective

The Economics:

 One of the main questions that were not answered is the economic feasibility of the nuclear programme. Jordan is aiming to build 3-4 generation III nuclear reactors (Pressurized light water reactor- European model) each with a capacity of 1.0 GW between 2018-2022. The proposed cost of the reactor is 3.5 billion US$. This is not taking into consideration the cost of the mining, operation and decommissioning that should all be integrated in the economic analysis of the nuclear cycle. The global experience with the cost of nuclear reactors shows a staggering increase of the real costs compared to estimated costs. The Okiluoto nuclear reactor in Finland (Generation III PLWR) was estimated to cost 3.2 billion Euro when it was planned in 2005. By 2010 its construction costs reached 4.5 billion Euro and the construction was already 3 years behind schedule. The estimated total cost of the 75 nuclear plants in the USA was 45.0 billion US$ but reached 145.0 billion US$ eventually. The Temelin nuclear plant in the Czech Republic (2007) suffered from a 495% increase in total costs.

 The nuclear option should have been economically analysis in comparison to renewable options in terms of financial costs and environmental costs. This would have provided a more comprehensive picture on the real sense of having a nuclear programme in Jordan.

 No nuclear renaissance: 

 There are 160 new plants that are being built or proposed with the majority in Russia and China. In Western Europe there are only two reactors under construction. In the USA no new plants have started construction despite the generous subsidies offered by the Bush and Obama administrations. As a matter of fact the number of nuclear power plants in the world is decreasing more old reactors shut down than new ones emerging.

 From where to cool?

Assuming that the financial limitations and the seismic dangers throughout Jordan were somehow averted, we now reach one of the most elusive components of the nuclear plant’s operation which is cooling water. A model 1.0 GW Generation III nuclear reactor requires 180 cubic meters of water each minute for cooling purposes if it uses the once through cooling system when water cools the reactor and is then sent back to the original medium or 80 cubic meters per minute if a closed system is used where water will be reused inside the reactor.. To the best of my knowledge there is no sea, lake or river in Mafraq to derive cooling water from. However there is the (in)famous Khirbet As Samra wastewater treatment plant that will be used to cool the nuclear reactor in what will be the second attempt in the world to use treated wastewater for cooling purposes, with the first one in Arizona. It will certainly guarantee a ‘sustainable” source of water but the package comes with plenty of technical constraints.

 Mining troubles:

 Jordan is home to 2% of the World’s Uranium deposits (140,000 tones). This is considered as a strategic natural resource in Jordan that can also be used to support the state budget in a world that is witnessing a reduction in the availability of Uranium, thus increasing its global market price.

Uranium mining is considered one of the most polluting operations in the world. The explorations in the central region are not governed by the Environmental Impact Assessment regulations of Jordan and should be adequately monitored to minimize environmental hazards. This is an operation that requires the utmost environmental safeguards with zero-tolerance to mismanagement and lack of transparency.

 The end product:

 This brings us to the issue of waste disposal where we should mention an astonishing fact. Throughout the world, where 436 operational nuclear reactors are functioning there is NOT one safe and permanent disposal site for nuclear wastes! In some countries – e.g. France, the USA, Japan or South Africa – comparatively short-lived and medium or low-grade radioactive waste is deposited in special containers near the surface. Germany has chosen the former iron ore mine shaft, Konrad, in Salzgitter in lower Saxony for the deep disposal of non-heat producing waste from nuclear plants as well as from research reactors and medical usage. The former mine is the first and only approved permanent nuclear waste facility in Germany and is being prepared for storage at the present time. It is due to start operating in 2014.

 We are in need of an honest debate about nuclear energy in Jordan. Such a debate should not be politicized or linked to national figures and nationalism expressions as much as to facts and technical details of expected challenges and a comparative analysis of option. Our children deserve such a debate now to correct any misguided assumptions or scientific arrogances that may have a drastic impact on the country. The debate should be open to all option including the abolishment of the whole idea of a nuclear programme in Jordan and shifting all efforts to renewable energy sources.

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About bwardam

Mr Batir Wardam is a Jordanian environmentalist with professional experience in disciplines of natural resource management, environmental policies and communication. He has a 15 years working experience with national academic institutions, NGOs, the government of Jordan and international and regional environmental organizations including UNDP, UNEP and IUCN. Mr Wardam is currently working with UNDP as a project manager for the third national communication report on climate change in Jordan.
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23 Responses to Why are we against nuclear power in Jordan?

  1. Pingback: To the anti-nuclear people - أردن مبدع

  2. Haitham says:

    Will I have to say that I was appalled when I read that BS article you are retorting to, especially that it was written by a “pundit of nuclear technology”, but at least it provoked such a well articulated defense on behalf of the “anti-nuclear Jihadists”.

    • Bahjat Tabbara says:

      Haitham, this is NOT a bs article; there are very valid points, I agree, there are others which need to be added &/or corrected, but we must not undermine people. If they are ‘pundits’ of nuclear technology & we are ‘experts’ (I am not an expert on nuclear technology, I am an economist who specialises at both energy-environmental economics, and of course international finance) & produced a study myself on nuclear costs.

      I found that the first reactors (for Jordan) will be MUCH MORE expensive, but that the operational cost defeats gas-steam, gas, or fuel oil & diesel. While wind beats all (set-up/operational cost) Jordan is limited t0 1000 MW of wind, with 35-45% availability; moreover, it may not be in periods of peak power. Thus while a capacity of 1000 MW is available; an average of 350 – 450 MW is available (on average) per year.

      By contrast, a nuclear power plant offers 1000 MW with 85-95% availability; that is, 850 – 950 MW (average) availability per annum.

      Fuel oil, natural gas, gas-steam depend on the flow of gas (Egypt has cut gas supplies to Jordan) & moreover, the price would have to be $25 per barrel (oil) and $150 per 1000m3 (natural gas combined cycle high-BTU grade) to be competitive! Jordan is receiving oil at $80-90 per barrel on average, and gas at $200-300 per 1000m3 (& it may not even be high BTU) needless to say, we only have ONE combined cycle facility, thus you can effectively raise costs by 50% per kW.

      Curiously, at $100 per barrel we’d pay $4.2 Billion per year on 105,000 barrels per day!!! 1000 MW saves us 40,000 barrels of oil equivalent per day. The question is, should we go for 40,000 more barrels (145,000 barrels total) or should we acquire two 1000 MW reactors & cut our consumption to 65,000 barrels per day!

      I agree:

      1. We need to exploit wind!
      2. We need to exploit solar! (where possible)
      3. We need to be much more efficient in our consumption
      4. We need CoGeneration & TriGeneration attached to…
      5. … Combined Cycle Gas Systems

      But!!!!!!!!!!! We need nuclear to shoulder the rest. All of the above will still produce a shortfall of at least 1000 – 1500 MW, & when electricity consumption is rising at 7-10% per annum, we need ALL the provisions above, INCLUDING nuclear.

      • Haitham says:

        Don’t take it personally, you presented some good data and I respect that, but what makes your whole article irrelevant to Jordan’s case is neglecting the water and corruption issues. These are two huge problems of their own and we can’t just hope they would be solved in the long run.

  3. Bahjat Tabbara says:

    @Haitham – I am pro-nuclear.

    Even if there is misinformation, you have to acknowledge people’s right to knowledge or furnish their misunderstanding of knowledge. I am not against the reactor, but I am VERY CONCERNED about the environmental aspects of uranium mining. No nation in the world has solve nuclear waste; but interim solutions have become more & more robust. For instance, TODAY, you can produce more energy for less waste, & store it on the reactor site (deep inside the power station) hence preventing duplication costs of a dedicated facility (not to mention expensive long-range transport and handling).

    The Okiluoto nuclear reactor in Finland (Unit III) is the first EPR (European Pressurised Reactor) in service. Since it’s also the first reactor Finland has built since the 1980s, and the largest PWR in the world (& first Generation III) then ‘first of a kind’ problems are inevitable. I estimate Jordan’s first reactor will cost $5 Billion, maybe even $6 Billion for 1000 MW, but the second unit, third, fourth will drop considerably in price, especially if on the same site.

    For comparison, the UAE’s four units are estimated at $3,650 per kW with a similar amount for maintenance and support over the reactor’s lifespan. Total capacity is 5400 MW, alas the UAE intends to disburse the reactors and add an additional ten units of the same APR1400. The S.Koreans (building and supplying the reactors) are hoping to be on time/on budget.

    Indeed, Canada’s EC-6 (Enhanced CANDU 6) was delivered on China ahead of time, and bellow budget. By contrast, Iran’s Bushaher reactor took ten years (versus five) due to problems of integrating legacy systems from Gemany’s 900 MW KONVI design (the original reactor for the site in 1979) and Russia’s more modern VVER (AES-1) not to mention Iranian failure to make due payments.

  4. Haitham says:

    Yeah, I acknowledge your right to knowledge, whatever that would be, and I believe it is a freedom of speech granted to you by the law, but others also have the right to speak and comment.

  5. bwardam says:

    Thanks Bahjat for the note about the Finnish reactor. As you know Finalnd is world number one in anti-corruption system and any additional Euro is justified, but what will happen in our dear country when it starts building a nuclear reactor and some elite use it as a black hole for gaining money under the slogan of “national interests”?

    • Bahjat Tabbara says:

      I agree, we have a corruption problem, & I acknowledge that the Anti-Corruption Committee is unable to fulfill its role. I am not against nuclear power but I am against corruption, & sleaze. That being said, we must distinguish between corruption & mismanagement; as well as other factors (i.e. hiccups in development) as we know, mega-projects are seldom realised on time or on budget (the Airbus A380 Super Jumbo is one example) it ended up two years late, & almost 50% over-budget.

      I believe that the anti-corruption committee must work diligently & its mandate expanded to prevent the possibility of kickbacks.

  6. Pingback: Protest Against Nuclear Power In Jordan | Green Prophet

  7. Ali says:

    Mr. Wardam,

    First of all, I would like to thank you for raising these extremely relevant economic and technical questions pertaining to this very important scientific issue. Many of the articles that have been critical of the Jordanian nuclear program these days have been mainly driven by predetermined biases and misconceptions rather than “facts and technical details”.

    I would like to address some of the issues you raised:

    1- You say that: “one of the main questions that were not answered is the economic feasibility of the nuclear programme”. I agree that this has not been determined yet but this exactly why a feasibility study will be carried out. From my understanding, a pre-feasibility study has been carried out that determined the initial economic viability of the project. The next step would be to carry out a bankable feasibility study when a reactor technology and operator are chosen. If the bankable feasibility study shows that the NPP is not economic then the project should be called off, however; I think we need to wait for the results of these studies before we can draw any conclusions about the economic feasibility of this project.

    2- You also say we should consider the “abolishment of the whole idea of a nuclear programme”, I disagree with you on this point as “abolishment” is a very drastic measure. Indeed, it might turn out that it is not feasible today to pursue a NPP. However, you cannot rule out the possibility of short term advancements in nuclear technology that might make the nuclear option more attractive in the near future. For example: the licensing of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) (http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/default.aspx?id=534&terms=small%20reactors) holds great promise to developing countries. As a result, I think the nuclear option should be kept on the table even if we decide against the currently proposed NPP.

    3- Finally, you say that Jordan should shift “all efforts to renewable energy sources”. The word “all” seems to imply that renewables are the “silver bullet” to our energy problems, a statement I highly disagree with. From my basic understanding, renewables (specifically wind and solar) are inherently intermittent and unreliable. With the lack of cheap, large scale battery technologies, renewables cannot provide us with cheap and reliable baseload power. This is evident by the fact that as of 2010, only five countries had wind penetration levels above 5% (Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Germany and the Republic of Ireland) and solar power has even lower penetration levels. Given these facts, could you please elaborate on how renewables can offer us an economically viable, baseload generation alternative to the proposed NPP?

    Thank you!

    • Haitham says:

      Ali,

      Renewable energy sources are intermittent in nature and can hardly supply more than 20-40% of an industrialized country power demands, that is true, but I reckon that Batir meant to say alternative energy, which is a rubric beneath which go down various new types of energy sources and technologies, renewable and non.

      The discussion here is not taking into consideration sustainability policies and the more passive means of saving energy and increasing the efficiency of power consuming units (e.g. homes, cars, electrical generators) which should play a vital role in such discussions.

      Second, a nuclear reactor producing a large percentage of the needed electrical power in Jordan is not a wise move. That would be going head to head with the intuitive wisdom of not putting all of your eggs in one basket, when you live side to side with a belligerent state such as Israel, which does not seem to be giving a damn about international treaties and accords.

      The gist of what I am trying to say is that it is not like Jordan had exhausted all the possible options and strategies to securing its energy demands. What they are doing is leaping into the nuclear option, while skipping a long list of other options unjustifiably.

      One last thing, and in reply to the possibility of technological advancement that might render the nuclear option feasibly to Jordan, what if in few years a breakthrough in solar cells was achieved? I think the government should not go for prohibitively expensive options, especially that we are in dire need of every penny, but instead they should consider as many options as possible, because we may never know what technologies the future will be bringing to us.

      • Ali says:

        Haitham,

        Thank you for the clarification!

        Two quick comments:
        1- I’m not disputing the fact that renewables might be able to provide us with 20% of our electricity. However, as you state; [renewables] “are intermittent in nature” and therefore they are not ideal candidates for baseload generation. As a result, in terms of short term baseload power generation alternatives to nuclear power, I think we are limited to natural gas and maybe oil shale.

        2- I agree that there might be breakthroughs in solar cells. However, we do not know with certainty what kind of technological advancements will occur in the energy sector and when they will occur. Therefore, what I was trying to say is that it would be ill-advised to pick “winning” technologies today. We need to keep all options open and this includes the nuclear power option.

  8. Batir Wardam says:

    Dear Ali;
    Thanks for the note.
    In the netional energy strategy the nuclear option should cover 7% of Jordan’s energy needs by 2020 while renewables cover 10%. Until now, the momentum was given to nuclear at the expense of renewable with the strengthening of the nuclear power institution and weakening of renewables’ institutional set-up. This is not the right policy. Renewables can provide about 15% by 2020 with less cost than nuclear. The first priority should be renewable, then oil shale then nuclear and not the current approach. It is always a sustainable energy mix that we should aim at.
    The Concentrated Solar Power technology can provide a great percentage of the energy needs in the region and create as much as 8,000 jobs in five countries including Jordan, based on a World Bank initiative

    http://arabworld.worldbank.org/content/awi/en/home/initiatives/solar_power.html

    • Batir Wardam says:

      Actually the expected job market to be created is 80,000!

    • Ali says:

      Dear Mr. Wardam,

      Thank you for taking the time to respond to my comment! I just want to make a few additional comments:

      1- I agree that favoring nuclear power over renewables or other alternative sources of energy might be an incorrect energy policy. As you say in your article, we need to ground our choices in sound scientific and economic facts and analysis. However, by saying that our ‘first priority should be renewable, then oil shale and then nuclear” you seem to deviate from your earlier statement that we need to make choices that are informed by scientific analysis. Is your recommendation of technologies based on “facts and technical details of expected challenges and a comparative analysis of options”? If so, I would very much be interested in taking a look at the report that carried out such an analysis. My point is, we need to remain consistent across the board when evaluating the different energy technologies.

      2- I personally believe that we should also consider natural gas fired power plants (besides renewables and oil shale) as an alternative to nuclear power. First off, new NGCC plants can be used as baseload power while renewables for the moment, are not as reliable. Second, NGCC plants provide a cheap and relatively clean form of energy. The issue with natural gas is obviously our dependence on imported gas. However, one can add an energy security premium to the price of natural gas and carryout a comparative analysis.

      3- At the end of the day, I think we would be better off stating our energy priorities (eg: 1-cheap electricity, 2-minimum environmental impact, 3- energy independence, 4-high reliability etc…) and then carryout an analysis based on those priorities to determine the best energy mix for Jordan. My question is, who would be best suited to carryout such a multidisciplinary study/report?

      Thank you,
      Ali

      • bwardam says:

        Thanks for the detailed response.
        Selecting priorities could be based on various factors and indicators that you have mentioned in your response like environmental sustainability and cost effectiveness. Taking this into consideration the renewables will be a much sustainable option than oil shale or nuclear.
        As for the multi-disciplinary study you mentioned, I recall that the higher council for science and technology commissioned such a study few months ago but I am not certain about the outcome. I will try to get a copy.

  9. Dear Batir
    Thanks for sharing. I was discussing this same issue last night with Helen Clark, the Administrator of UNDP. Although I am very pressed for time, but I wanted to quickly share with you some concerns, some you already have touched upon:
    1- Jordan is the second water poorest country. We need to set our priorities right for the use of our water.
    2- Solar is rich in its Solar Radiation power and wind potential. We do need to invest in those, at local, regional and national levels. We need to work with Japan, considering their current stand on nuclear systems and strike important and comprehensive partnership for Research and Development on lowering the cost of solar panels and solar systems. This would prove more cost effective than spending resources on dangerous systems in our backyard.
    3- As you mentioned, the number of nuclear systems is decreasing. Do not we learn lessons? why are they decreasing? Let us start from where others ended!
    4- We do need to utilize “sustainably” our natural resources, including Uranium resources, but not at any cost and not at the expense of the environment and the health of people.
    5- We cannot overlook the seismic activity in the region. We all know how vulnerable this region is extending from Turkey to Africa. We have been spared major disasters, but that doesn’t mean we are spared for ever.
    6- This region, is rich in solar and rich in financial abundance, but also willingness to do good for the nation. We should invest in the already existing renewable systems in UAE, KSA, Morocco and elsewhere and do more work on R&D and sell our free sun to Europe and Africa.
    Best wishes
    Iyad

  10. Mohammed DABBAS says:

    I do agree that it is an urgent need to diversify our local energy resources, it is a strategic option for Jordan and other countries that depend solely on importation of conventional sources of Energy, also I do agree to exploit more in Wind, Solar Thermal, Solar PV, and Waste-To-Energy Technologies, all need to be tested based on both its Technical, Environmental & Feasibility Studies, at the mean time, Waste Sector seems to be more promising for investment as a R.E resource based on the net cost of each KWh produced from MSW in comparison to the net cost of electricity produced from the conventional sources followed by Wind & then the Solar PV….
    Nuclear in my opinion, will not only be the shoulder of the rest, it will be the short & Med. fall to secure our intentions to secure our needs of electricity, taking into consideration the Best Available Techniques & Best Practicable Environmental Solutions as a mitigation wisdom that might be applied in Jordan to mitigate & reduce the risks associated with this tech., more over it will give Jordan more political power at both the Arab & International Levels !!!. this is in brief my point of view…..thankx

  11. Ahmad Abdel-Fattah says:

    Thank you Batir for initiating this national discussion.
    Haitham, my concern, from an environmental consultant perspective, is not only environmental aspects of uranium mining, but also all project-pertinent environmental and safety studies, such as environmental impact assessment (EIA) studies of project’s construction and most importantly operation and decommissioning; site evaluation report; safety studies, etc. I am not very confident about the integrity of data collated to make up site evaluation reports, EIAs, if consulting studies to be conducted principally by local consultants, let alone my fear of the potential critical impact of lack of national guidelines for conducting EIA studies to any regional or international standards let alone best industry practice standards, on the performance of the reactor during both business as usual as well as during emergency (disaster) situations. Consulting in Jordan is still, excluding very limited efforts, copy-and-past style work and such serious project should be zero tolerant copy-and-paste consulting style project, which I am afraid will not be the case.

    • bwardam says:

      Dr Ahmad, I totally agree with you on the copy and paste consultancy especially in EIA. I know some firms that can tell you a nuclear reactor is safe even if it is placed in the heart of Zarqa or Amman. The client is always right as long as it pays the money!

  12. bwardam says:

    This is a good response I goet by e-mail from Mr ralf Juelich, who is a German consultant on environmental law working for the Ministry of Environment in Jordan:

    Hi Batir,
    I read your article, thanks, good initiative. However, as for the German situation, I would like to correct you a bit:
    Shaft Konrad is of almost no practical and political relevance in Germany for waste from nuclear power plants.
    It will be used only as storage for less radioactive waste, i.e. only 0,1 % (!!!!) of the total radioactivity of waste generated in Germany.
    Maybe you have followed the discussion in Germany post-Fukushima and that the conservative-liberal (!!!) government has taken a 180% turn in its pro-nuclear policy. On monday the government agreed on a law on the phase of of nuclear energy in Germany by 2022 – actually 8 different laws which shall be adopted by parliament on 8 July.
    This step is called energy revolution not only in Germany but also in Europe. It is one of 2 top issues in Germany these days (the other is EHEC-disease). The nuclear industry goes crazy (and so do some neighbours, esp. France). The reason behind is the enormous gain of the Greens in recent elections and polls (from 11 to almsot 25 %).
    As for storage of “real” nuclear waste the focus has been for 3 decades on the salt dome Gorleben – which may now also be dropped and after having spent Billions of Euro on investigation (Wikipedia: “1.5 billion Euro’s of research has been conducted in the period 1979-2000 at Gorleben”) a new search for disposal site is likely to start again.
    This is a key information as it means
    1. germany, depending to some 35 % on nuclear energy sees no future in this energy form and
    2. the search for final disposal site starts again from scratch (also taken into consideration the awful experience of Asse

  13. It’s amazing for me to have a website, which is good in support of my knowledge. thanks admin

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