1. Deputies vote to suspend nuclear project

by Raed Omari | May 30,2012 | 23:32

AMMAN — Deputies on Wednesday approved a recommendation by a parliamentary committee to suspend Jordan’s projected nuclear programme, invoking hazardous consequences of the energy generating project.

During a Lower House session, 36 out of the 63 MPs present voted in favour of a recommendation by the Energy and Mineral Resources Committee to bring to a standstill Jordan’s nuclear programme which, it said, “will drive the country into a dark tunnel and will bring about an adverse and irreversible environmental impact”.

However, Commissioner of the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission Khaled Toukan said Jordan’s nuclear programme will be unaffected by a parliamentary motion to halt the project, saying that the project’s activities fall in line with lawmakers’ demands (see related story).

Ahead of the vote, several deputies insisted that the “hazardous and costly” nuclear programme be suspended, calling on the government to switch to other environment-friendly energy-generating projects such as the solar and wind power.

Citing Jordan’s lack of water resources, Balqa MP Mahmoud Kharabsheh, who launched the inquiry into the nuclear programme, said that the project will add new burdens to the already fragile budget, and called for resorting to clean alternatives to address the country’s energy dilemma.

“Financially and geographically speaking, Jordan is incapable of starting a nuclear programme,” said Irbid Deputy Zeid Shqeirat who voiced his “wholehearted” support for all the committee’s recommendations.

For Jerash MP Wafa Bani Mustafa, moving forward with the nuclear programme is against the will of most Jordanians who, she said, are against the “risky” project.

Other MPs, including the Energy Committee Chairman Jamal Gammo, argued that Jordan is planning to implement a nuclear project at a time several countries, including Japan and Germany, have started dismantling their nuclear power plants.

Some deputies, however, including Khalil Attiyeh (Amman, 2nd District) and Bassel Ayasreh (Jerash, 1st District), said MPs are not experts in nuclear energy and thus cannot issue any verdict concerning the Kingdom’s nuclear programme.

“It is wrong to stop such a national nuclear project,” Attiyeh said, warning his colleagues against taking any decision to suspend the project.

The veteran deputy also said that none of the experts consulted by the Energy Committee has called for suspending the project, calling on his colleagues to be “fair” when deciding the matter.

In its final report, which was released last week, the Energy Committee accused the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) of deliberately “misleading” the public and officials over the Kingdom’s nuclear programme by “hiding facts” related to the cost of the projected nuclear reactor and deliberately omitting the cost of works other than the construction.

Ayasreh said deputies’ debate over a purely scientific issue was unreasonable. He called on his colleagues to support any move that contributes to easing Jordan’s energy woes.

Also on Wednesday, a majority of deputies voted for approving the Energy Committee’s recommendation to suspend uranium exploration in the Kingdom until a feasibility study is conducted.

In its report, the parliamentary committee also accused JAEC Chairman Khaled Toukan of issuing misleading statements that emphasise the economic feasibility of uranium mining in Jordan “despite the fact that no feasibility study has been conducted yet”.

“Observing the principle of confidentiality of information, as stipulated in the agreement with AREVA, cannot be an excuse to keep deputies in the dark unless there is something JAEC intends to hide from the people and the Lower House,” reads the report.

“How come the government approved such a big enterprise despite the fact that no feasibility study has been conducted?” Kharabsheh asked, calling for terminating Toukan’s service.

Describing the committee’s report as “subjective”, Zarqa Deputy Ali Khalaileh charged that the panel had discussions only with those who oppose the nuclear and uranium mining projects, without even listening to Toukan’s opinion on the matter.

Responding to that, Gammo said that the committee consulted advocates and opponents of the project and sent a set of questions to Toukan whose reply was taken into consideration when the committee’s report was authored.

The government is required to abide by the committee’s recommendations that were approved by a majority of deputies.


2. Atomic energy programme to ‘go ahead as planned’

by Taylor Luck | May 30,2012 | 23:09

AMMAN — Jordan’s nuclear programme will be unaffected by a parliamentary motion to halt the project, officials say, claiming that the project’s activities fall in line with lawmakers’ demands.

The motion called on the government to freeze all activities towards establishing a uranium mine and a nuclear reactor until the completion of economic feasibility and environmental surveys.

The Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) says it supports the stipulations set by Wednesday’s legally binding motion, which they claim is in line with the programme’s timetable.

“Waiting for the economic feasibility and environmental impact studies makes perfect sense; this is what we want and this is what we have suggested to Parliament,” JAEC Commissioner Khaled Toukan said.

Toukan said the motion will not impact ongoing uranium exploration efforts in the central region, noting that an economic feasibility study, due to be completed in August, will be the deciding factor in the uranium mine’s construction.

The atomic energy chief described lawmakers’ call for halting all work to construct the nuclear reactor as “premature”, noting that the commission has yet to narrow in on a reactor site or vendor.

“We are currently in the pre-construction phase and economic feasibility and environmental impact assessments are an important part of this process,” Toukan said.

“As far as we are concerned, we support this vote and we will continue as planned.”

Acknowledging that the measure is unlikely to lead to the “immediate freeze” of the nuclear programme, lawmakers say they expect the vote to put “increased pressure” on JAEC to be more forthcoming with its figures.

“We fully expect the government to comply with this measure and hold officials responsible for their claims,” said Jamal Gammo, head of the Lower House Energy Committee.

Gammo stressed that the motion sent a clear message that Jordanians are “not convinced” with the feasibility or strategic value of the mega-project.

“There are still doubts over whether this programme is in the interests of Jordan or in the interests of a few individuals or companies,” Gammo said.

“This is why we need to stop and make sure we have our facts straight before we move forward.”

The Lower House vote came in support of recommendations of an energy committee report raising doubts over previous statements by the JAEC on the feasibility of uranium mining and construction costs of the first nuclear reactor —doubts energy officials say were based on “outdated and inaccurate” data.

Lawmakers have previously raised doubts over JAEC estimates of the presence of some 140,000 tonnes of uranium, quoting previous experts as placing the Kingdom’s total reserves at some 14,000 tonnes, and have claimed that decommissioning costs and waste transport will push the reactor’s price tag “well beyond” the commission’s $5 billion forecast.

The JAEC stands by its previous estimates, pointing out that the initial results of ongoing exploration in the central region have confirmed the presence of over 20,000 tonnes of mineable uranium and that the commission has received offers from reactor vendors for under $5 billion.

Amman has prioritised nuclear energy as key to weaning the Kingdom off energy imports, which cost the country 25 per cent of its gross domestic product annually and has pushed the national energy bill to a record JD4 billion.


3. The Jordanian nuclear question (opinion piece)
by Mohammad F.A. Nsour | May 30,2012 | 22:47

As a limited-resource, oil-lacking nation, Jordan had to look for alternatives to deal with the increasingly sharp demand for energy. After exploring the limited options, nuclear energy became a favourite option.

Opposition to this has recently engulfed the political and social atmosphere, expanding across Jordan. The proponents of the programme, led by the head of the Atomic Energy Commission, Khaled Toukan, found themselves on the defence.

The arguments presented revolve around the following issues: Jordan does not have sufficient uranium; the country lacks the ability to fund a nuclear programme; it has not acquired the expertise to run the programme and operate (or more correctly control) a highly sophisticated megaproject like the nuclear programme; it has no means to face the risks involved in utilising nuclear energy.

In recent weeks, cries for suspending the programme have risen. Commentators and journalists have been calling to repeal the nuclear programme and yesterday the parliamentarians — who previously ratified the uranium exploration and mining agreements and the related regulations — decided to suspend the programme.

The reaction of the champions of the nuclear project remained disproportional.

During the time the government was negotiating the mining agreement with the French party, I observed almost all the negotiation rounds between the parties and thus I feel qualified to comment on the issue from different angles.

First, it is not true that Jordan lacks uranium reserves. Jordan’s uranium deposits have been estimated at over 70,000 metric tonnes in the central region alone. Pre-feasibility and feasibility studies show that unlike other sources of energy, nuclear power is a viable option whose investment cost is higher but its total generation cost is lower.

Second, the fact that Jordan has partnered with a global company that is largely owned by the French government ensures a smooth financing of the mining project. The Jordanian government has not carried the burden of financing the project. Instead, Jordan will benefit from the fruits of such nuclear investment. A political and economic “heavy-weight” economy like France’s will no doubt ensure that its expensive investment and venture in the Middle East will efficiently pay off.

Third, in addition to the know how that the nuclear investment will bring into the country, Jordanian universities have launched nuclear science programmes that will produce competence to handle the country’s nuclear ambition.

The Jordan University of Science and Technology established a nuclear engineering department to prepare future reactor operators who hold undergraduate engineering degrees in nuclear engineering. The students have the opportunity to train on research reactors and simultaneously interact with prestigious global institutions that have similar programmes. Other universities, such as the University of Jordan and Yarmouk University, initiated graduate degrees in nuclear physics.

Fourth, the mining agreement has been meticulously built through professional financial and legal processes. Post-formation legal measures are encompassed in the agreement to ensure a safe and sound implementation of the nuclear project. Such measures empower, inter alia, the Nuclear and Radioactive Work Regulatory Commission to supervise, license and penalise all projects whose work revolves around nuclear and/or radiological-related activities.

The commission has broad and defined power to monitor and supervise nuclear and radiological projects, which is highly transparent and ensures clear accountability. Likewise, the mining company has the duty to adhere to the best international and local standards even when the project concludes, and that is by rehabilitating the mining sites.

The nuclear mining company and its arms that functions on Jordanian ground remain subject to other Jordanian laws, such as tax, labour, social security, company and other laws; they do not conflict with the terms of the mining agreement itself. At the same time, exceptions or deviations from the rules of the aforementioned laws have been unequivocally stipulated in the mining agreement.

While taking all these procedures, I recall that Toukan was immensely vigilant of the legal, financial and business aspects of the project. He showed outstanding technical knowledge and unprecedented Jordanian controlling role of the negotiations with the French party. He and his team were protective and mindful of Jordanian interests.

As a Jordanian citizen, I highly value having a gifted mind like Toukan’s overseeing such significant Jordanian endeavour. Whether, or not, Jordan’s uranium reserves are substantial enough to constitute a profitable and viable economic resource.

Why would Areva, one of the largest global uranium companies, invest thus far more than 50 million euros in the uranium business in Jordan if the deposits are not sufficient, as claimed by opponents to the programme?

Will the country be able to afford the energy bill as it is barely doing right now? Will we be better off 20 years down the road without nuclear technology to produce energy? Finally, and perhaps most interestingly, why did many Jordanians, be they parliamentarians or other, give the nod to the bills related to the nuclear programme?

Perhaps those opposing it could give answers to these questions.

The writer, m.nsour@ju.edu.jo, is a lawyer and law professor at the University of Jordan, Faculty of Law. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.