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
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.
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.