By Taylor Luck

AMMAN – The Kingdom is set to invite international firms to take part in its peaceful nuclear programme as protests heat up over the proposed site of the country’s first reactor.

According to Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Khaled Toukan, the government will float a tender in July for a strategic investor/operator for the country’s first nuclear power plant, slated to be a 1,000 megawatt Generation III/III+ reactor.

In spite of the global backlash against nuclear energy due to the fallout of the Fukushima incident, the Kingdom has already received expressions of interest from several major international utilities, he told The Jordan Times.

The country’s first nuclear power plant is to be operated under a public-private partnership, a joint venture under which the government would own a 26-51 per cent equity share in the power plant.

Toukan stressed that despite the addition of an international operator, the Kingdom’s nuclear power programme – which calls for the construction of up to four nuclear reactors to produce over half the country’s electricity needs – will remain a strictly Jordanian venture.

“There is a lot of misinformation out there. Some say that an international company will come in and run and own the plant and this is simply not true,” Toukan said.

Meanwhile on Friday, hundreds of Mafraq residents and environmental activists protested against the proposed site of the country’s first reactor – Majdal, near the Balamaa/Hashmiyyeh area, some 40 kilometres northeast of Amman.

Friday’s demonstration marked the third protest targeting the nuclear programme in less than a month.

In addition to environmental concerns, activists point to the price tag of a nuclear reactor – JD4-5 billion – and Jordan’s limited track record in nuclear energy as grounds to halt the programme.

Energy officials in Amman highlight stable electricity prices, zero-carbon emissions and the presence of extensive uranium ore reserves across the country as among nuclear power’s advantages.

The Kingdom currently imports 97 per cent of its energy needs at a cost of one-fifth of the gross domestic product.