By Taylor Luck

AMMAN – Work is now under way to establish Jordan’s first nuclear reactor following the signing of a $70 million soft loan agreement with South Korea on Monday.

The Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) and a South Korean consortium comprising the Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute and Daewoo met yesterday to begin preparations for the country’s nuclear research reactor, a 5-megawatt (MW) reactor for teaching and training purposes.

The project officially commenced after the $70 million soft loan agreement was signed yesterday by Minister of Planning and International Cooperation Jafar Hassan and South Korean Ambassador to the Kingdom Shin Bong-kil.

The remaining funds for the $130 million nuclear research reactor will be provided by the JAEC, according to an agreement signed in March.

A planning ministry statement quoted Hassan as saying the funding deal is an “extremely important step towards building Jordan’s peaceful nuclear programme”.

“This is the signal of Jordan entering the nuclear age,” JAEC Chairman Khaled Toukan said during a ceremony to launch the project yesterday.

He underlined that the reactor will become the focal point for a national nuclear science and technology centre to educate and train future generations of Jordanian nuclear engineers and scientists.

“This important project will help us in developing the proper infrastructure to effectively implement Jordan’s nuclear energy programme,” Toukan stressed.

The Jordan Research and Training Reactor (JRTR), which is set to be operational by 2015, is to be established at the Jordan University for Science and Technology in Ramtha, 67 kilometres north of Amman.

In addition to representing the nuclear facility in Jordan, the research reactor marks the first export of South Korean nuclear technology.

According to Ned Xoubi, JAEC commissioner for nuclear fuel cycle and JRTR project director, the nuclear research reactor centre will include radioisotope production and training facilities.

Future expansion of the centre will include a fuel fabrication plant, as well as radioactive waste and cold neutron facilities, he added.

The reactor, which will be upgradeable to 10MW, will facilitate the training of nuclear operators and technicians as well as advanced nuclear research in neutron sciences and the commercial production of radioisotopes.

The research reactor will also allow for practical experience for Jordanians in nuclear energy, reactor physics, radiochemistry and radiation protection, Xoubi said during the inauguration ceremony.

There are currently 284 nuclear research reactors in 56 countries around the world, 64 of which are located on university campuses, according to JAEC figures.

The research reactor is considered a critical component of the Kingdom’s peaceful nuclear power programme, which aims to wean the country off energy imports, which cost 13 per cent of gross domestic product in 2009.

The programme entails the construction of 1,000MW Generation III reactor in a site near Aqaba, with plans for future reactors to support upcoming mega-projects and transform Jordan into an electricity exporter.