By Taylor Luck

AMMAN – A Japanese-French bid to build Jordan’s first reactor cleared an international legal hurdle on Tuesday as nuclear officials narrow in on their selection of a nuclear technology vendor.

The Japanese parliament approved a cooperation accord with the Kingdom yesterday, paving the way for the export of nuclear technology to Jordan, a major legal hurdle to a bid by a joint consortium comprising Japanese firm Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and French firm AREVA.

“The Japanese Diet took several months to take everything into account before making what we think is the right decision and great news for Jordan,” Jordan Atomic Energy Commission Vice Chairman Kamal Araj told The Jordan Times.

According to Araj, the commission has completed its technical vetting of the short-listed bids and has started this week the evaluation of the financial offers from three short-listed firms.

In addition to the Japanese-French consortium, the commission is currently weighing bids from Canada’s AECL and Russia’s AtomStory Export to construct a Generation III 1,100-megawatt reactor by the end of the decade.

According to an industry source, Amman may be leaning towards the Japanese-French technology, which has yet to be applied at the commercial level, due to its relatively low water cooling technology.

In addition to cooling solutions, atomic energy officials have previously indicated that financing and technology adaptability will be key factors in Amman’s selection of a reactor vendor.

The Diet approved its nuclear cooperation agreement with Jordan, inked in September 2010, and was among four nuclear accords ratified by the Japanese parliament yesterday.

Japanese lawmakers also endorsed nuclear treaties with Russia, South Korea and Vietnam in what industry experts describe as a positive sign of Japanese nuclear industry’s recovery from this April’s Fukushima accident.

“This is a positive sign that the nuclear industry in Japan has recovered,” Araj added.

Energy officials have prioritised nuclear energy as key to weaning the Kingdom off energy imports, which cost Jordan 98 per cent of its gross domestic product.

The commission is narrowing in on a reactor vendor, with the winning bidder to be announced in the first quarter of 2012, at a time when the Kingdom’s nuclear power programme has come under popular criticism.

In addition to health and economic concerns, anti-nuclear activists point to the intensive water needs for reactor cooling, estimated at some 30 million cubic feet per year, and the economic viability of the Kingdom’s uranium reserves as grounds to freeze the programme.

Energy officials point to stable electricity prices and a relatively low carbon footprint among nuclear power’s advantages.