AMMAN (JT) – Scores of environment activists and Mafraq residents on Tuesday held a sit-in in front of Mafraq Municipality to protest against the country’s nuclear programme.

Some protesters dressed in yellow shirts to express their rejection of atomic power, while others who wore white overalls and gas masks lay down on the ground to highlight the risk of nuclear pollution on humans.

The demonstration, organised by Greenpeace Jordan and Irhamouna (have mercy on us), a coalition of Mafraq residents and concerned citizens, marked the fifth anti-nuclear protest since May and came as energy officials in Amman vet technology vendors for the country’s first nuclear reactor.

Dozens of activists from Mafraq and the capital participated in the sit-in, part of what activists claim is a growing national movement against nuclear power.

“We sent a peaceful message today to the Prime Ministry, the Royal Court and the Ministry of Energy that we do not want a nuclear reactor,” Irhamouna coordinator and Mafraq resident Nidal Hassan told The Jordan Times in a telephone interview.

“Like citizens in Holland, Britain, Kuwait and all over the world, we reject nuclear energy and we hope to carry this message to all levels.”

The sit-in comes as part of Greenpeace’s ongoing global campaign working with local partners to “stand up” to nuclear power, according to Zeina Hakim, a member of Greenpeace Jordan.

“We think that countries should consider other alternatives such as solar energy – there is so much sun in Jordan – and that all the financial support for the nuclear programme should be placed towards renewables,” she told The Jordan Times over the phone.

The solution to our energy problems is also the conservation of energy consumption, she underscored.

Hakim noted that the protest was held in Mafraq, the proposed location for Jordan’s first nuclear plant, because it is the first city that will be affected by any nuclear pollution.

The sit-in comes amidst an increasingly heated national debate over nuclear power, which has been prioritised as key to weaning the Kingdom off energy imports, which cost the country one-fifth of the gross domestic product in 2010.

Environmentalists have raised concerns over the feasibility of the nuclear programme, which calls for the construction of up to two 1,000-megawatt reactors at a site near Mafraq, some 40 kilometres northeast of the capital, within the next decade.

Activists’ main objection is the proximity of residential areas to the planned site, which is located a few kilometres away from the neighbourhoods of Balama and Hashmiyyeh, home to some 20,000 people.

Energy officials have stressed that the potential reactor site includes a five-kilometre radius safety belt, well within International Atomic Energy Agency guidelines.

Irhamouna has called into question the scheme to cool the reactors, arguing that the 30 million cubic metres of water required would be better spent supporting the agricultural sector.

The Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) has argued that with the presence of grey water – produced by the nearby Khirbet Al Samra Wastewater Plant – for reactor cooling, the Mafraq site is the only suitable alternative.

Environmentalists also object to plans to mine the Kingdom’s potentially vast uranium reserves – estimated at some 140,000 tonnes – claiming that mining activities represent a danger to the ecosystem and public health, a claim that energy officials deny.

JAEC lists long-term stable electricity prices, zero-carbon emissions and a positive impact on the local economy as among nuclear power’s advantages.