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?