By Taylor Luck

AMMAN – The government has notified three international companies that they have been short-listed to build the Kingdom’s first nuclear power plant, according to a senior energy official.

Following the official notifications, which were sent out this week, the government will enter negotiations with the three companies, which were short-listed from seven firms, in order to select the final bidder within the next year, Jordan Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Khaled Toukan told The Jordan Times on Monday.

The selected bidder will provide the technology for a Generation III reactor, and is expected to serve as a strategic partner in operating the plant, he indicated.

This year, the JAEC will embark on a nationwide survey of uranium resources through its commercial arm, Jordan Energy Resources Inc.

Although Jordan is known to have significant uranium reserves, their full extent is not known in several areas, such as the northern and southern regions.

Mining in areas where there is a significant presence of low-grade uranium, such as the southern region, may become economically feasible with rising uranium prices and future technological advances, Toukan pointed out.

Through its exploration activities in the Southern Badia, Australian British firm Rio Tinto has discovered that uranium deposits can be found as deep as 25-30 metres below surface level, while results from French firm AREVA has exceeded the initial estimates of 70,000 metric tonnes in a 1,400-square-kilometre concession area in the central region.

The government is expected to approve a uranium mining agreement with AREVA this summer, Toukan said, to pave the way for the start of construction of an open-pit mine in the central region early next year, pending bankable feasibility studies.

Under the current time frame, uranium mining activities will begin in early 2013, he indicated.

AREVA has analysed 8,000 samples from the central region, and results have been “promising” for uranium mining, he said.

Currently, the firm is enacting a pilot phase in French laboratories to decide the best processes to extract yellowcake from uranium ore retrieved from the central region.

Toukan stressed that the site for the country’s first nuclear power plant, on the eastern shore of Aqaba and 25 kilometres away from Aqaba city, was selected within US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) guidelines, taking health, safety and environmental concerns into account.

“We are not cutting corners and we will apply USNRC and IAEA prescriptive measures… line by line,” he said.

The nuclear power plant will use a closed-loop cooling process, rather than direct cooling of Red Sea water, he said, noting that although more economically feasible, direct cooling might present certain environmental concerns.