By Taylor Luck

ENERGY OFFICIALS ARE scheduled to open financial bids for the country’s first nuclear reactor next week as the Kingdom’s atomic energy programme moves closer to another milestone.

According to Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources Khaled Toukan, energy officials are to start the review of financial offers from international vendors for the construction of a 1,000-megawatt Generation III reactor.

Last month, the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) received financial bids from three short-listed vendors – Russian firm Atomstroyexport, Canadian AECL and a consortium comprising French AREVA and Japanese firm Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Following an extensive review period, in December energy officials will unveil the selected technology vendor for the reactor, slated for a site in Balaama near Mafraq, some 40 kilometres northeast of the capital.

Meanwhile, the JAEC is awaiting bids from potential strategic operators/investors to take part in the country’s peaceful nuclear power programme.

The JAEC has prioritised bringing on a strategic operator and investor to help defray the capital costs of constructing the reactor and establish a joint utility to sell electricity to the National Electric Power Company.

French energy giant GDF Suez, China’s Datang International Power Generation Co., Russia’s Rosatom Corp. and Japan’s Kansai Electric Power Co. are believed to be among the firms invited by JAEC to take part in the programme.

The technology selection process is said to have little influence over the selection of the strategic investor/operator.

Energy officials in Amman have prioritised nuclear power as key to weaning the country off energy imports – which cost the Kingdom around one-fifth of its gross domestic product in 2010 and some JD1.7 billion in the first half of 2011.

Plans for the country’s first nuclear reactor have met resistance from some environmentalists and Mafraq residents, who have joined forces to hold a series of protests in Amman and near the proposed reactor site.

Energy officials highlight stable electricity costs and the presence of the Kingdom’s strategic uranium reserves – estimated at over 100,000 tonnes – among the advantages of nuclear power.

In addition to health and environmental concerns, anti-nuclear activists point to water scarcity and a widening budget deficit as grounds to freeze the programme.