By Taylor Luck

AMMAN – Officials marked another milestone in Jordan’s peaceful nuclear programme on Thursday by unveiling the Kingdom’s first storage facility for radioactive waste.

The central storage facility, an interim hosting site funded by the US Department of Energy and the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC), aims to ensure safe and secure storage for low- and medium-level radioactive waste generated by hospitals, universities, scientific research institutions and other industries, JAEC Chairman Khaled Toukan said during the opening ceremony yesterday.

The centre, which was built on the premises of the JAEC headquarters on the outskirts of Amman, is also designed to protect workers from ionised radiation exposure and the environment from being contaminated by radioactive materials, he stressed.

While Jordan does not produce radioactive materials, several medical, industrial, agricultural and research facilities generate low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste, according to JAEC Fuel Cycle Commissioner Ned Xoubi.

Currently, 354 institutions and organisations in the Kingdom deal with 1,600 radioactive sources, with 2,600 workers in direct contact with the materials, he noted.

Previously, many institutions, chiefly hospitals and universities, kept spent radioactive sources on-site in “poor, unsafe and insecure storage”, Xoubi told The Jordan Times.

The new facility will serve as a destination to store, catalogue and safeguard radioactive materials, with round-the-clock monitoring and a security system connected to the Public Security and the Civil Defence departments to prevent theft or misuse of stored materials by unauthorised personnel.

The 500-square-metre facility, which includes underground storage, serves as a testament to the Kingdom’s engineering expertise and aims to reassure the international community that Jordan’s peaceful nuclear programme will remain committed to international standards, Xoubi stressed.

“Jordan will see many similar facilities, milestones and accomplishments before reaching the ultimate goal of producing electricity from nuclear power,” he added.

The US Department of Energy helped finance the project through its Global Threat Reduction Fund, US officials said.

Additional facilities will need to be built to handle spent nuclear fuel prior to the construction of the country’s first nuclear power plant, expected within the next decade, JAEC officials indicated.

During Thursday’s event, Toukan and representatives of the US embassy in Amman and the US Department of Energy expressed interest in closer cooperation in the nuclear field in the near future. To date, Jordan and the US have not signed a nuclear cooperation agreement.

The Kingdom’s first nuclear power plant, a 1,000-megawatt Generation III reactor, is expected to be built in a location in Aqaba, inland and west of the port city, within the next decade.

The commission previously announced that it would select the technology and strategic partner for the reactor within the next year.

Jordan aims to become a net electricity exporter by 2030, with nuclear power expected to make up 30 per cent of the Kingdom’s energy mix, Toukan said.