By Taylor Luck

AMMAN – Energy officials on Thursday accepted bids for the construction of the country’s first nuclear reactor as protests over the peaceful nuclear programme continue.

Amman accepted technical bids from three short-listed energy giants – Russian Atomstroy Export, Canadian AECL and a consortium comprising French firm AREVA and Japanese Mitsubishi Heavy Industries – to construct a 1,000 Megawatt Generation III reactor by the end of the decade.

According to the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission, a ministerial committee will start reviewing the bids in mid-July, before announcing the winning firm in December.

The vendors were requested to factor March’s Fukushimo incident in their bid documents and detail how their reactors would withstand similar conditions, namely an 8.9-magnitude earthquake on the Richter scale.

The country’s first reactor – slated to be built in the Balamaa/Majdal area some 40 kilometres northeast of Amman -has the potential to create some 5,000 jobs, according to energy officials.

Jordan’s nuclear programme has come under increased scrutiny by local environmental activists, with recent protests held in Mafraq, the Ministry of Energy and in front of the Prime Ministry.

In addition to environmental and health concerns, activists point to a lack of water – the Kingdom’s first nuclear reactor is to be cooled by the Khirbet Al Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant – and construction costs as grounds to freeze the programme.

Officials highlight stable electricity prices and zero-carbon emissions as among nuclear energy’s advantages.

Nuclear power has been prioritised as key to weaning the country off costly energy imports, which cost Jordan 20 per cent of its gross domestic product in 2010.