By Taylor Luck

AMMAN – Competition is on for the construction of the Kingdom’s first nuclear reactor as energy officials launch the programme’s technology selection phase.

According to Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Khaled Toukan, energy officials are slated to receive financial bids from three shortlisted firms in mid-August as part of an ongoing technology evaluation process.

“We are only at the beginning of a very long and detailed process, and at the end of the day we will make the selection that is the best for Jordan,” Toukan told The Jordan Times.

By the end of the year Amman is to select one of three shortlisted firms to construct a 1,000-megawatt (MW) Generation III reactor. They are: Canadian AECL, Russian Atomstroyexport and a joint venture of French firm AREVA and Japanese Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Officials are exploring the construction of a second reactor within three years of the first, which is to be online by 2019, in order to meet electricity demand, estimated to reach 5,000MW by 2020.

The energy ministry is slated to launch a separate tender later this year for a strategic operator to take part in managing the country’s first nuclear power plant. Atomic energy officials have previously indicated that the technology selection will have no bearing on the selection of the strategic operator.

The drive for the Kingdom’s first nuclear power plant comes as part of a long-term vision of four nuclear reactors within the next quarter-century providing Jordan with 60 per cent of its electricity needs.

Energy officials in Amman have prioritised nuclear power as key to weaning the country off energy imports, which cost Jordan one-fifth of its gross domestic product in 2010.

The leading site for the country’s first reactor, Balama, some 40 kilometres northwest of Amman near Mafraq, has been met with resistance from environmental activists and local residents.

In addition to environmental and health concerns, activists point to a lack of sufficient 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.

Jordanian officials highlight stable electricity prices and zero-carbon emissions as among nuclear power’s advantages.