By Taylor Luck

AMMAN – Amidst increased interest among international energy utilities in Jordan’s nuclear programme, energy officials are extending their search for a strategic investor to help build the country’s first nuclear reactor.

Energy officials have pushed back proposal deadlines to February to field further expressions of interest from international operators, according to Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) Vice Chairman Kamal Araj.

While financing remains a challenge for the Kingdom’s nuclear ambitions, the stalling of several programmes across the world due to safety concerns in the aftermath of the Fukushima incident earlier this year has made the nuclear industry a “buyer’s market”, according to the JAEC.

“There is increased competition among vendors and utilities, and for countries pursuing peaceful nuclear energy such as Jordan, this is a positive development,” Araj said.

The Kingdom’s nuclear programme has attracted the interest of several major utilities, including French energy giant GDF Suez, China’s Datang International Power Generation Co., Russian Rosatom Corp. and Japanese Kansai Electric Power, according to the commission.

Under the JAEC’s proposal, the strategic investor would alleviate Jordan’s financial burden by providing up to half of the funding for the nuclear reactor, expected to be built by the end of the decade, with the government retaining a 26 to 51 per cent equity share in the power plant.

Officials view the addition of a strategic partner as key to overcoming the obstacle of capital costs – estimated at $5-10 billion – that would push the Kingdom over its legally enforced debt ceiling of 60 per cent of the gross domestic product.

In parallel with the search for an international investor, Jordan is evaluating three short-listed technologies for the country’s first reactor: AtomStroy Export, Canada’s AECL, and a joint consortium comprising French AREVA and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

The Kingdom is expected to announce both its chosen reactor vendor and strategic investor in the first quarter of 2012.

Energy officials are reaching out for a strategic partner amidst growing questions over the feasibility of the nuclear drive, with anti-nuclear activists pointing to intensive water needs, potential environmental impact, and conflicting estimates over the viability of uranium reserves as grounds to freeze the programme.

Officials highlight stable electricity prices and a low carbon footprint among nuclear power’s advantages.

Overall plans call for the construction of up to four 1,000-megawatt reactors to transform the Kingdom from an energy importer to an exporter.