By Taylor Luck

AMMAN – Versatility will be a deciding factor as Jordan considers firms to build its first nuclear reactor, an energy official said.

According to Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) Vice President Kamal Araj, Jordan’s selection of a reactor vendor will hinge on the ability of firms to adapt their technology to the variations in terrain and climate in different regions of the Kingdom.

The commission is yet to narrow in on a location for the country’s first reactor, with leading candidate sites in Mafraq, some 40 kilometres northwest of the capital, and the Red Sea port city of Aqaba.

Because atomic energy officials are carrying out the technology search in parallel with the site selection process, the JAEC is requiring firms to prove the feasibility of their proposed reactor in a variety of potential locations, according to Araj.

Licensing requirements and cooling solutions are also top among officials’ concerns as the commission considers bids from three short-listed firms: Canada’s AECL, Russia’s AtomStory Export, and a joint consortium comprising France’s AREVA and Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Experts say the cooling needs of a Generation III reactor, up to 30 million cubic metres of water annually, present a major challenge for Jordan, classified as the fourth water-poorest country in the world.

The three technologies currently under consideration are not licensed by their countries of origin, while two have yet to be put into commercial use, according to the JAEC.

Meanwhile, the JAEC has announced that a panel of independent experts will provide additional vetting to ensure the feasibility of the selected technology.

The review by the team of industry experts – independent of any ties to Jordan or the three vendors currently bidding for the reactor tender – aims to provide an additional level of transparency in the technology selection process.

Jordan is set to announce the winning bid in the first quarter of 2012 before entering a several-month negotiation period with the selected vendor.

Once approved by the Jordan Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the chosen firm will then be tasked with building Jordan’s first reactor by the end of the decade, with plans in place to construct up to four reactors to provide over half the Kingdom’s electricity by 2030.

According to Araj, next year’s announcement will be the start of a “long-term partnership” between Jordan and the selected vendor, indicating that Amman will likely return to the winning bidder for future reactor projects.

“For a small country such as Jordan, it doesn’t make sense to select different technologies; that is why we are taking additional time to make sure we get this right,” Araj said.

Energy officials have prioritised nuclear energy as key to weaning the Kingdom off energy imports, which cost the country 23 per cent of its gross domestic product.

The programme has come under popular criticism in recent months, with anti-nuclear activists pointing to intensive water needs, potential environmental impact and high capital costs as grounds to freeze the programme.

Proponents of the programme highlight stable electricity prices and the presence of Jordan’s uranium reserves, estimated over 100,000 tonnes, among nuclear power’s advantages.