The eventual meltdown of the nuclear program in Jordan

Welcome to the location of Jordan's nuclear reactors!

Welcome to the location of Jordan’s nuclear reactors!

Update: Based on insider information the meeting today was fairly positive with the PM listening to all concerns raised by the experts and promised to form a committee to evaluate and investigate the process of the whole management of the program. Whether this promise will materialize remains to be seen.

Today will witness a unique meeting between the Prime Minister of Jordan and a group of representatives from the wide spectrum of institutions, experts, activists and local community members who oppose the controversial nuclear program in Jordan. The driving forces that have pushed the government to the position of the need to open up to the critics are mainly due to the increasing scope and tone of opposing a program that has always been labeled with lack of transparency and contradictions of information.
The year 2014 can see a U-turn in the fate of the nuclear program and put the necessary breaks in expenditures and decisions that have been going on for more than 7 years without any proper monitoring and evaluation.
To make a long story short, there are five main reasons that I think will push the nuclear program to its eventual end as a mirage ambition that has mislead the Jordanian public and, most sadly…its leaders for a long time.
1– Arrogant Management:

Developing a sustainable, publicly-supported nuclear program requires the maximum transparency, modesty and openness in management. In Jordan the exact opposite was the case. Since its inception in 2005 the Jordanian Atomic Energy Commission (JEAC) has acted as a religious cult in its pursuit to force the state and the public to accept the nuclear option. The officials of JAEC have claimed to posses the ultimate truth in nuclear sciences and management issues and tried to bully all their critics by linking the nuclear option to the highest levels of decision making in Jordan. Whenever critical voices emerged within the JEAC asking questions and debating decision they were expelled from JEAC. Most of those scientists that have discovered the lack of transparency and continuing contradiction in JAEC will be present in today’s meeting hoping to meet a Prime Minister open to hearing the real story.
JAEC wanted also to destroy the credibility of their opponents and linking them to “external agents” who want to sabotage the “patriotic nuclear program”. The nuclear lobby has also been successful in eroding the capacity and strength of the Atomic Regulatory Commission which is the regulatory body of the nuclear sector in Jordan. The regulatory commission has been selected by the government to be abolished along with the 50 years old Natural Resources Authority in a very controversial law for public sector restructuring.
Even for those experts and public who believe in the role of nuclear option in the energy mix in Jordan, the current method of management is not transparent and is alienating people against the program.
2- How much Uranium?:

The main assumption that was used to push for the nuclear option is the proposed availability of “strategic amounts” of Uranium in Jordan. The figure that was paraded by JEAC reaches 70.0 Million tonnes which has been used by HM King Abdullah II in his autobiography book two years ago. Now, there are many questions marks about this figure. The 1st person to publicly declare that Uranium amounts and concentrations in Jordan are much less that what was proposed is Dr Nidal Zoubi who was the Commissioner of the Nuclear Fuel Cycle in JEAC. His transparency cost him his job. In the past two years both AREZA and RioTinto which are two of the biggest exploration and mining firms in the world have withdrawn from Jordan due to the less than promising findings of Uranium concentrations. JEAC did not cave in and insisted that both companies made a big mistake in their methodologies and that Uranium is present in commercially strategic amounts based on a study by one scientists who was a previous staff member in Rio Tinto and examined 1.0 square Kilometer only . If you want to believe that one scientist is more credible than two mega corporations that base their decision only on strategic outcomes by my guest but I am personally not buying it.
3- Cost and Financing:

JAEC has claimed that the cost of constructing the two reactors would $10 billion.  Based on current market prices and current reactor projects, construction costs for the two proposed reactors  1000 MW are set to reach $20 billion. This is only for construction and if we take into consideration the full cycle of nuclear program including operation, maintenance, waste management and decommissioning we can end up with a colossal amount that can never be met. In JEAC’s agreement with the Russian firm Rosatom stipulates that the firm will cover 49% of the cost while Jordan will provide 51%. It is beyond any kind of logical thinking to envisage how a debt-stricken economy can provide this amount of cash. JEAC has been trying to get access to the social security money to finance the project. The social security management until now has resisted all political pressure and is not responding positively to this dangerous gamble with people’s pension money. There is no feasible source of financing that any serious plan can rely on at this stage.
4- Unproven technology:

JEAC’s propaganda states that Jordan’s nuclear reactors will be very safe as they will belong to Generation III reactors. However, Jordan’s agreement with Rosatom identify the technology of AES92 VVER1000 reactor with the only model that has been commissioned, in India is currently still under construction and not operational. Did they mean safety during construction? Nuclear safety is no joke and it requires ultimate commitment to the safety guidelines of the International Atomic Energy Agency which, if implemented will consume huge amounts of money that will increase the cost of the project. This technology is still experimental and it does not give us a lot of relief to be the Guinea Pigs of this experiment.
5- Water resources:

This issue is the final bullet that will lay the project to eternal rest. The chaotic sequence of selecting the location of the reactors led us now to the heart of the Jordanian desert near the historic Qusay Amra area. The reactors should use, according to declared plans not more than 40 MCM of cooling water each. Even if we assume the ability to allocate this water from the treated wastewater effluent of Khirbet As Samra (largest WWTP in Jordan) there is absolutely no additional source of water to deal with emergency situations. This is an extremely high risk of building a nuclear reactor in a desert, cooled by high salt content wastewater and completely defenseless against any case of human error or natural disaster that would reach a point of meltdown danger that requires huge amounts of cooling freshwater. There is a good reason why nuclear reactors are built adjacent to oceans and huge rivers.
Building a nuclear reactor in a desert cooled by wastewater is a fairytale but it will cost a lot of money to realize how irrational it is.
These are my five reasons, and I have not even touched upon the need to collect and treat radioactive waste.
Even for the most pragmatic reasonable person with a critical mind, the nuclear reactor in Jordan can only be built in Aqaba near sea water or never. How much we will lose until we realize this simple fact?

Posted in Anti-nuclear, Energy, Financing, Future Risks, Science & Technology | 4 Comments

A Review of Environmental Trends in Jordan in 2013



The year 2013 did not start well for the main institutional entity empowered with protecting the environment in Jordan. The Ministry of Environment was facing the axe of the Prime Minister who surprisingly announced in Nov 2012 that the Ministry will be dismantled and linked to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs as a department, like it was prior to 2003. The Ministry benefited from a national campaign by NGOs and other partners, along with good media coverage and reasonable arguments to be able to convince the PM to reconsider his decision and the Ministry was back in business in February 2013.

Relieved from this pressure the Ministry returned to its hard task to mobilize internal willingness and external resources to protect the environment which led it to facing pressures from businesses, local populations and other ministries seeking the path to rapid results without environmental impacts.

Heated Nuclear debate:  

One of the major pressures the Ministry of Environment and other environmental stakeholders in Jordan are facing is the nuclear lobby and its political influence to push forward a much disputed nuclear programme. In October, the Jordanian Atomic Energy Commission announced the selection of Russian firm, Rosatom, to construct two 1,000 Megawatt (MW) reactors in Jordan. The two reactors will be built in the middle of the Jordanian desert in Amra area. Under the deal, the Russian firm is to shoulder 49 per cent of the construction and operation costs of the reactors — to be established on a build-own-operate basis — with the government carrying the remaining 51 per cent.

The announcement was met with an increasing wave of doubt, criticism and refusal by environmentalists, independent nuclear energy experts and local communities. Former atomic energy officials also called into question JAEC’s claims that the AES92 VVER1000 reactor technology offered by Rosatom boasts a proven “safety track record”, noting that although licensed, the only model that has been commissioned, in India is currently under construction and not operational. The momentum for the anti-nuclear movement in Jordan is expected to increase in 2014 and attract more stakeholders and get more politicized.

Renewables still facing barriers:

In contrast to the strong political support provided to the nuclear option by the government and state institutions the portfolio of renewable energy is still moving at a lethargic pace. The chaos in official planning for this sector was evident when the government  announced that it was reconsidering the feed-in tariff for renewable energy approved last year. This has resulted in discomfort and threatened ongoing and planned investment until somehow the government returned to logic and kept its committed figures.  

The year did not end without positive news as the first large-scale wind farm project has secured funding. The support from IFC will help the Jordan Wind Project Company build a 117-megawatt plant in the southern governorate of Tafileh. IFC, the lead arranger of the project, provided $69 million in loans and helped directly mobilise another $79 million from other lenders. The wind farm will be the country’s first privately-owned renewable energy facility. The Tafileh wind farm is expected to produce electricity at a price up to 25 per cent less than that of thermal power while avoiding the emission of 224,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. There are two other solar and wind energy projects with generating capacity of 75MWs each at a total cost of JD300 million to be financed from the Gulf Cooperation Council fund to Jordan.

In other news in energy sector, the once-promising era of Egyptian natural gas supply to Jordan is about to end. Egyptian gas supplies have dropped to “negligible” quantities since September, after hovering around 50 million cubic feet (mcf) per day for most of the year — well below the 240mcf stipulated in a joint agreement between Amman and Cairo. The loss of Egyptian gas supplies, which used to account for over 80 per cent of Jordan’s electricity generation needs, has driven generation costs to over 187 fils per kilowatt hour (kw/h) — more than double the average 87 fils per kw/h rate distributors are charging consumers.

The government indicated that the gap has cost Jordan more than JD500 million in subsidised electricity to residential consumers alone, adding that a proposed rise in electricity tariffs will fail to close the widening gap.

Mini Red-Dead Agreed:

 The major event in 2013 in relation to water sector was the MoU which was signed between Jordan, Palestine and Israel to launch a “reduced” design of the Red-Dead Conveyor project. Through the concept of water swap between Jordan and Israel the project’s first phase will provide Jordan with 100 million cubic metres [mcm] of water annually at affordable prices… This amount will cover Jordan’s water needs during the next decade. The Red-Dead project will channel 100mcm of brine into the Dead Sea to reduce the deterioration of its water level. The project will also provide Palestine with 30mcm of freshwater to cover its water deficit, especially in the south of the West Bank. A total of 85-100mcm of water will be desalinated annually with Aqaba receiving 30mcm of desalinated water annually to cover the zone’s increasing development needs until the year 2040. Meanwhile, Israel will buy its share of 50mcm of desalinated water from the project at cost value and will sell Jordan the same amount of water in the northern part of the Jordan Valley at a cost of JD 0.27 per cubic metre.

In 2013 the government has decided to hit strong on water theft in Jordan. There are 1,000 unlicensed water wells in different places in the Kingdom and those operating them are selling water to citizens at high prices. Many owners of illegal water wells were selling water at prices that reached JD2,000 per day, which has prompted the ministry to file some 800 lawsuits against them. The Ministry of Water and Irrigation stated that between 50 and 100 million cubic metres (mcm) of water are extracted from these wells annually, around half the amount pumped from the Disi aquifer in southern Jordan. The Kingdom’s water needs in 2013 stand at 1,400mcm, with the annual deficit reaching 550mcm.

The outcomes of “Arab Spring”:

Another major source of extra pressure on water resources in Jordan has been the continuous influx of Syrian refugees to Jordan and especially on the groundwater aquifer in Northern governorates. A recent study by the Ministry of Water and Irrigation warned that it was only a matter of time before the main aquifer lying beneath the Zaatari camp became polluted. Overpumping to meet the demand of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees is not the only risk facing the aquifer, according to the study, which noted that pollution due to wastewater leakage is also expected within one to ten years.

More than 580,000 Syrians have taken refuge in the Kingdom since the conflict in their country erupted in March 2011. Over 70 per cent of Syrian refugees in Jordan live amongst host communities, while the rest are accommodated at the Zaatari camp and the Mreijeb Al Fhoud Camp in Zarqa Governorate. The influx of refugees is placing pressure on the local sewage network, causing it to overflow frequently, according to officials and residents of Mafraq. The study indicated that over 34.164 million cubic metres of wastewater are generated annually by Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Those clear signs of danger, however did not stop Jordan from taking a very peculiar decision to install a second refugee camp above Al Azraq aquifer, one of the most important groundwater resources in Jordan!

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Prince Hassan writes: Water Cooperation for a Secure World

On November 28th, 2013, HRH Prince Hassan will be officially launching the new Strategic Foresight Group report “Water Cooperation for a Secure World” in Amman, Jordan. The following article is a curtain raiser to the launch and discusses key messages from the report:


By El Hassan bin Talal and Sundeep Waslekar

 UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon has repeatedly emphasised the need to explore the linkage between water, peace and security. Now, new research by Strategic Foresight Group demonstrates that he has been right to do so. Empirical evidence in 148 countries and 205 shared river basins indicates that any two nations that are engaged in active water cooperation do not go to war.

Of the 148 countries covered by the report, Water Cooperation for a Secure World, 37 are at the risk of going to war over issues other than water, including land, religion, history and ideology. These also happen to be precisely the 37 countries which do not engage in active water cooperation with their neighbours.

The good news is that more than 100 of those countries which promote water cooperation in both letter and practice also enjoy peaceful and secure relationships with their neighbouring countries. Water and peace are interdependent.

Nonetheless, and despite the growing international consensus in the international community on the significance of water as an instrument of cooperation (as reflected in the UN’s designation of 2013 as the Year of Water Cooperation), many analysts continue to project water as a source of potential conflict. It is true that lakes, rivers and glaciers around the world are shrinking.  Growing pressures of population, economic growth, urbanisation, climate change and deforestation can further deplete water resources, thus causing social and economic upheavals, but this need not be so.

Active water cooperation can help overcome environmental challenges and usher in a new era of peace, trust and security. Beyond the essential legal agreements, active cooperation also requires sustained institutions of trans-boundary cooperation; joint investment programmes; collective management of water related infrastructure; a system for regularly and jointly monitoring water flows together with a shared vision of the best allocation of water resources between agriculture and other sectors; and, a forum for frequent interaction between top decision makers. An institutional infrastructure should enable political leaders to discuss exchanges between water and other public goods such as transit, national security or large public works.  The underlying emphasis must be placed on harnessing the benefits of a river, rather than on squabbling about the shares of depleting flows.

The new Strategic Foresight Group report introduces the Water Cooperation Quotient (WCQ) which measures the effectiveness and intensity of trans-boundary cooperation in water using the parameters mentioned above. The 37 countries that face the risk of war happen to have a WCQ below 33.33 in value.

Many parts of the world witness active water cooperation between riparian countries. In the Senegal River basin in West Africa, an autonomous body which is independent from any state owns the dams. In Latin America, the waters of Lake Titicaca are considered joint and indivisible by Peru and Bolivia. In the Mekong basin, flow data is harmonised among the lower riparian countries, while the upper riparian countries, China and Myanmar, are dialogue partners. The Rhine, Danube and Sava River basins, as well as Lake Constance in Europe and the Colorado River between the United States and Mexico are all jointly managed on a daily basis. These countries all enjoy peaceful and stable relations.

The benefits of active water cooperation, both in terms of economic growth and in previously unknown levels of peace, as evidenced in both the developed and parts of the developing world such as Central America, West Africa, and Southeast Asia should not be denied to West Asia or other regions. Such cooperation however is premised on an intellectual framework for cooperation, rather than confrontation, or the “Blue Peace way of thinking” where water is seen as an instrument of collaboration rather than a cause of crisis.

We have together developed the Blue Peace approach, in a process supported by the Swiss and Swedish governments over the last three and half years.  It entails the development of a community of political leaders, parliamentarians, government officials, media leaders, and experts from regions facing political discord, to encourage the use of water to promote peace and the protection and enhancement of the human environment. Such a community can pave the way in establishing regional cooperation councils for the sustainable management of trans-boundary waters to facilitate joint monitoring of water flows; to harmonise standards to measure water and climate indicators; to negotiate joint investment plans in water related large projects; and, to discuss exchanges between water and other public goods. This can result in the improvement of the WCQ to a level higher than 33.33 in Asia and Africa. Indeed we urge all countries to use the WCQ to assess their own performance with regards to their cooperation with neighbours and thereby to enhance the prospects of peace and security for themselves.

It is our profound hope that together we can begin the process of implementing the Blue Peace framework across the world by crafting institutional instruments, globally acceptable legal regimes, dialogue mechanisms and a worldwide Blue Peace network.  If we take a few steps in this direction this year, the proclamation of 2013 as the International Year of Water Cooperation will prove to be meaningful.

HRH Prince Hassan bin Talal is the Chair of the UN Secretary General’s Advisory Board on Water and Sanitation. Sundeep Waslekar is the President of Strategic Foresight Group.

Posted in Political context, Regional Context, Water management | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Human Rights Approach to Environmental Management in Jordan

The connection between a clean environment and human rights is not a recent linkage. Environmental rights are essentially associated with the rights of a human for legal protection and his/her right of life and development as confirmed by the international declaration for human rights in 1948. The first actual international treaty on environmental rights did not materialize until the year 2001, which was UNECE Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision-making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters was adopted on 25th June 1998 in the Danish city of Aarhus at the Fourth Ministerial Conference in the ‘Environment for Europe’ process. However, the roots of the struggle for environmental rights clearly coincided with the legislations and mechanisms for the implementation of human rights around the world.

Nevertheless, the basic human rights, which are incorporated in civil, political, economic, cultural and social rights, are considered an indirect gateway to environmental rights. Therefore, there has always been a need to develop an international legal text that covers the environmental rights in a direct manner, and has the power of practical legislations. However, three elements can be considered as integral for any human-rights approach to environmental governance at the national level:

1- The right to a clean and safe environment:

These are the basic environmental rights, but they are the most difficult to define. Talking about a clean environment requires determining this environment in figures and standards. This might be different from one geographical area to another and from one political – economic environment to another, but the most important criteria is to have clean water. In Jordan there are a plethora of environmental regulations, specifications and standards for environmental quality but there is no comprehensive system of monitoring and public access to results that can determine the actual quality of the environment. Monitoring for water and air quality is conducted by various public and research institutions but rarely connected to decision making processes.

2- The right of working to protect the environment

This is a general right found in the universal declaration for human rights and reflects the right of individuals and groups to organize themselves and take action to protect the environment. Such a right, is directly linked to political and civil rights, in addition to the right of assembly and public action through popular organizations. This is naturally one of the rights that are threatened in many countries of the world. In Jordan the legal and institutional conditions are suitable for environmental activism as many civil society organizations emerge to protect the environment and many independent research and community organizations are also joining forces. During the past two years the environmental community in Jordan was successfully mobilized to protest controversial projects including the building of a tourism resort and an military academy in natural forests areas that constitute only 1% of Jordan’s area. The focus of environmental advocacy now is on the social and environmental campaign against the Jordanian nuclear energy programme that is drawing a lot of criticism.

3- The right of access to information and participation in decision making

This right is linked directly to democracy and transparency, where the citizen is allowed to play an effective role in protecting the surrounding environment and participate in making crucial decisions that affect them. This right in particular is the essence of the European Aarhus treaty, which includes clear text regarding environmental rights, the most important of which “Every person has the right to live in an environment that is appropriate for his health and welfare”. The treaty goes on to assert the right of people to obtain the important information regarding the pressures that have an impact on the “clean environment” in order to help them take the appropriate decisions regarding these pressures. In Jordan environmental information is usually protected by public organizations that produce the data and sometimes require financial input to release such data. Ironically, the best sources of environmental information about Jordan are from international and regional organizations working in Jordan.

Posted in Governance, Political context | 1 Comment

Arab Climate Policies and the “M” Word

It is obvious now that the world of climate change policies will not be the same as we knew it for the past 20 years. Durban’s COP 17 has ended the differentiation between developed (Annex 1) and developing countries (Non Annex 1) in terms of climate obligations. It is only a matter of time, and arm twisting in negotiations until developing countries (including Arab countries from Saudi Arabia to Mauritania) will have to develop sound climate policies.
While Arab countries have been hiding for ages under the slogan of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities” for shying away from any climate change obligations, they have to wake up to face a new world. A world that will contain the dirty word that no one wants to say or hear, the famous ‘M” word that stands for Mitigation.
The last two COPs under the UNFCCC have strengthened the need to develop what is so politically called ‘Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions” (NAMAs) which will have to include specific plans for mitigating Greenhouse Gas emissions from developing countries, subject to their own socio-economic conditions and the availability of funding and technology transfer from developed countries and the developing countries’ own resources.
Arab climate policy makers will have to enter a new territory where mitigation and not only adaptation must be mainstreamed in the national planning context and be officially communicated to UNFCC. This is NOT a disaster, nor an outcome of a global conspiracy from developed countries against our emerging economies. It is a step that has to be taken and we should better think of it very soon. This is how I think a national mitigation policy can be developed safely and without impacting Arab countries’ quest for development.
For any Arab country that is still pursuing socio-economic development and growth, any climate change mitigation plan should be opportunity-based and focus on low-cost mitigation option (low-hanging fruits). Such a plan should be able to support a transition to a sustainable low-carbon economy without jeopardizing development gains.
The major process for developing a realistic mitigation plan for an Arab country could include the following steps:
1- Continuous monitoring and analyses of political, policy, economic, social and technological trends in the major mitigation sectors (energy/transport, wastes, agriculture, industries, land use, etc…) to identify challenges and opportunities for GHG mitigation.
2- Analysis of the legal framework of the mitigation sectors and how appropriate it is for mitigation measures and recommending modifications.
3- Conducting the GHG emissions inventory that identifies major emission sectors and the contribution of each sector to the overall national GHG emissions and trends with the latest available figures.
4- Conducting a mitigation analysis by determining a baseline scenario and a mitigation scenario with all associated political, technological, economic and social factors integrated.
5- Development of the comprehensive mitigation plan focusing on opportunities (energy efficiency, renewable energy, waste-to-energy systems, green buildings, technology transfer, sustainable agriculture, etc…) and determining the reduction unit cost for each sector.
6- Identification of mitigation opportunities associated with the global Climate Change governance system that could enhance access to financial and technological resources to enhance mitigation. This will include a major focus on CDM and other UNFCCC-related instruments.
7- Publishing the suggested mitigation programme as a policy document that targets decision makers, investors, donors and the civil society. This policy document should identify and highlight available opportunities for mitigation and propose public support mechanisms in the form of economic incentives, subsidies, legislative reforms, institutional empowerment and technological support.
8- Establishing a national representative platform to discuss the mitigation programme and turning it into a detailed national plan.
9- Preparation of the national mitigation plan 2013-2020 with key performance indicators, logical framework analysis, financial allocations and targets, institutional responsibilities and monitoring & evaluation plan. The plan should be divided into short term and long term objectives as well as sub-national components (cities, governorates). The plan should also include detailed pilot projects and options for investing in research and development aspects for the emergence of local innovations for mitigation technologies.
10- Publishing and endorsing the national mitigation plan at the Cabinet level and providing it with the necessary political support.
11- Exploration of new and emerging opportunities for mitigation in the post-Kyoto global governance framework including REDD+.
12- Exploring the possibility of establishing a GHG database where GHG emissions are voluntarily reported and documented to identify trends, threats and opportunities for rapid mitigation action.
13- Processing the mitigation plan into education, learning and awareness products directed at the community to mobilize support and understanding.
14- Proposition of an independent monitoring and evaluation system for the mitigation plan. Both government and civil society will be empowered to report back on the progress of the plan using measurable and realistic indicators on annual basis and compiling results in official (governmental) and non-official monitoring reports that include lessons learned and opportunities for improvement.
I don’t think this is impossible to achieve, do you?

Posted in Climate Change, Economic policies, Energy, Mitigation, Sustainable business | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Demise of the Red-Dead Canal?

In a recent presentation delivered in a working breakfast organized by EDAMA Minister of Water and Agriculture Hazim Al Naser has dropped a bombshell. The Minister has revealed that the government is now thinking seriously of replacing the Red-Dead Conveyor project with a series of lower budget projects that would provide drinking water to Jordan and its neighbors through the desalination of Red Sea water.

This is the 1st time that a high-level official suggests that the Red-Dead Sea project can be revoked. This is a decision that makes sense and comes at the right time.

During its presentation of the final results of the Environmental and Socio-economic feasibility studies for the project, the World Bank and the Ministry of Environment provided the regional stakeholders with many reasons to doubt the feasibility of the whole project.  If you have some time during Ramadan to read the full studies available here it would be a great educational exercise, but of not let me summarize the situation.

The plan is to pump 1.2 billion Cubic Meters of sea water from the Red Sea, pass it through a series of desalination plants, use the desalinated water for drinking, and discharge the brine to the Dead Sea, which should help restore it to its 20th century levels and prevent it from vanishing like the Aral Sea. The Dead Sea is a unique ecosystem — it is the world’s saltiest lake at the lowest altitude. Its surface is currently about 420 metres below sea level. Excessive use of tributary water from the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers has reduced its level by 27 metres since the 1960s, a trend exacerbated by climate change and increased evaporation.

Red Dead

Although the feasibility and EIA studies recommended going ahead with the project they raised more questions than they answered, casting a shadow of uncertainty over its future.

The Dead Sea level will not be restored:

The seawater modelling exercises used in the studies indicate that it will be safe to discharge a maximum of 350 million cubic metres of sea water brine into the Dead Sea every year, but that any additional discharge will be detrimental to the environment.

The interaction between sulphate from the Red Sea and calcium from the Dead Sea will form a white layer of gypsum on the surface of the Dead Sea, destroying the aesthetic value and ecological integrity that currently attracts tourists to the area. The mixing of waters will also cause algae to grow, which would be devastating for the mineral industries that thrive along the Dead Sea’s shores.

The cap on discharge volume means the project can’t meet its original objective, since any realistic restoration of the Dead Sea to its condition around four decades ago would require adding 700 million cubic meters annually — double the threshold considered safe for the environment

Huge  Energy requirements:

Environmental safety is not the only risk. The project is also challenged by affordability. It needs to raise US$10 billion, and the only financing option is a huge private investment by a company that could sell water at a high-enough price to recoup its capital investment.

The financial feasibility study assumed that about 80 per cent of the project’s costs will be provided by loans and donors, with only a fifth from countries — both difficult in this global state of austerity.

And the project will need 800 megawatts of energy to drive the desalination, pumping and operation of the facilities — a requirement that cannot be met with the current, short-term forecasts of energy supply in the region.

The new option:

Faced with such barriers, any reasonable decision maker will pause and think a lot before committing to this dangerous adventure. During his above-mentioned presentation Minister Al Naser proposed another solution.

The alternative is based on a series of smaller scale and lower budget projects that start with the treatment and desalination of  Red Sea to produce 85 MCM of freshwater and 100 MCM of brine that will go into the Dead Sea. The produced freshwater will be provided to both Israel (50 MCM) and Palestine (35 MCM). In return Jordan will receive the same amount from Israel from sources in the northern Jordan valley.

Now I am getting confused and worried. Why desalinate and then sell the water to Israel while we can potentially link the resulting desalinated water to the alraedy existing Disi project pipeline?. I am not an engineer nor a plumber, and would love to know why such a linkage between the desalination plan in Aqaba and Disi infrastructure is not feasible.

This could provide a strategic additional source to bridge the water demand gap and at a much lower price, both financially and politically.

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Should we drink from Disi Water?

One of Jordan’s most ambitious strategic developmental projects has been actually achieved. After years of ups and downs on a bumpy financial and administrative road the Disi water conveyor project is functional now supplying Amman and the middle area with 100 MCM of water each year.

Disi pipe

In Jordan there is always a reason to feel alarmed, worried and skeptical about every project. Whether this is justified or not remains to be proven. For the Disi project there is a huge shadow of doubt that has emerged since 2009 when a scientific study published by Duke University reached a frightening conclusion that the water of the Disi aquifer contain very high levels of radioactivity that is detrimental to human health and may cause many health effects including the “C” disease. Although all fossil water aquifers in the world contain various levels of radioactivity the one in Disi, according to the study is highly dangerous in its content.

The study, wired throughout the world by Reuters caused panic in Jordan. The Ministry of Water and Irrigation did not help at that time by pointing accusation fingers at the fact that the main author of the study was an Israeli academic, who was assisted by a prominent Jordanian expert and other American researchers.

The study occupied the psyche of the people in Jordan and almost all media outlets. No one cared to question the methodology which used sampling from a few wells in an area that has not been used for either drinking or agricultural purposes in the last decade. Moreover, Disi water has been used for drinking purposes in Aqaba since 30 years. Currently, Aqaba has the second lowest rate of cancer incident among Jordanian governorates (40 cases per 100,000 population) according to the National Cancer Registry for 2010. Obviously, Disi water has not caused a Cancer epidemic in Aqaba.

According to information I received from 4 trusted sources (officials and researchers) during the past few days I can say the following.

The Disi water that currently reaches your home tank originates from a collection of 50 wells in the Disi Aquifer. Volumes of water are collected and then pumped to the mixing and treatment facilities in Dabouq and Abu Alanda. The average dose of total radioactivity in this water originating from Disi is 0.83 mSv for 1 year exposure. While at Dabouq the Disi water is mixed with freshwater from Zai at a ratio of 1:1 which makes the final dose of the water pumped to your home 0.45 mSv. This concentration is based on the assumption of drinking 2.0 L per day for the period of 70 years.

On the website of the Water Authority of Jordan there is a very useful document in Arabic describing the Disi water treatment process in relation to radioactivity.

According to the WHO, Background radiation exposures vary widely across the Earth, but the average is about 2.4mSv/year,with the highest local levels being up to 10 times higher without any detected increased health risks from population studies. According to figures from the Jordanian Nuclear Regulatory Commission the background of radiation exposure in Jordan is 1.8 which makes 0.5 mSv a small addition to background levels and still within global average.

In Australia, which is highly dependent of fossil groundwater for drinking purposes the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (ADWG) recommend that that a guideline dose of 1 mSv per year should be applied for radioactivity in drinking water. This is even more than the dose in the Disi water reaching the consumers.

Should we drink from the Disi water?

For me, as a father and a consumer I trust the sources I have consulted and in a country that is the 4th poorest in water availability in the world will drink the Disi water. As for anyone rightly concerned about reducing any potential of developing nasty diseases I suggest quitting smoking, cleaning the water tanks on the roofs of your households and fixing any problems of radon exposure in the house. In the meantime, I would always request and ask the government for transparency and the continuous announcement of water quality for the public opinion.

Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments