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Jordan's nuclear program derailed

Nuclear Monitor Issue: 
WISE Amsterdam

On May 30, during a Lower House session, 36 out of the 63 MPs present voted in favor of a recommendation by the Energy and Mineral Resources Committee to bring to a standstill Jordan's nuclear program which, it said, "will drive the country into a dark tunnel and will bring about an adverse and irreversible environmental impact". Jordan Atomic Energy Commission Chair Khaled Toukan, under pressure because of insulting nuclear opponents, stated Jordan’s nuclear program will be unaffected.

On January 10, 2012, after a debate in Parliament about the cost of the nuclear reactor, a majority of deputies voted down a request to form an investigative committee into the nuclear program, opting instead to refer the case to the House Energy and Mineral Resources Committee for examination.

In its final report, which was released the week before, the Energy Committee accused the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) of deliberately "misleading" the public and officials over the Kingdom’s nuclear program by "hiding facts" related to the cost of the project. Specifically, the Energy and Mineral Resources Committee has accused JAEC of understating the costs of the nuclear reactor. The commission has said that a 1,000-megawatt reactor will cost US$5 billion, but the committee says it has provided no information on the costs of water cooling, the electricity to operate the project, nuclear waste storage and decommissioning.

Ahead of the May 30 vote, several deputies insisted that the "hazardous and costly” nuclear program 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 program, 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 program," said Irbid Deputy Zeid Shqeirat who voiced his "wholehearted" support for all the committee's recommendations.

At the same day, May 30, 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 emphasize 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.

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

A nice example of how to neutralize opposition can be found in the reaction of the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission. The JAEC says it supports the stipulations set by the legally binding motion, but say Jordan’s nuclear program will be unaffected by the motion because the project’s activities fall in line with lawmakers’ demands.

JAEC chairman Khaled 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.

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

Khalid Tougan
Meanwhile, Khalid Toukan, chief of Jordan's nuclear commission and godfather of the kingdom's nuclear program has come under increasing pressure to resign for allegedly making an insulting reference to local tribes. Toukan, a former deputy prime minister and of education, is accused of calling the tribal leaders and other opponents of the country's ambitious nuclear program "donkeys" and "garbage collectors." The remarks occurred in a recording of unknown origin and are directed at local tribes in north Jordan for opposing the nuclear program. The record was probably made a year ago but leaked out only now, spreading in local media like wildfire.

Toukan has questioned the authenticity of the recording, saying it was fabricated as part of a smear campaign targeting the kingdom's nuclear drive.

He played the ‘foreign involvement’ card (like many do under the same circumstances) by accusing a cabal of international powers, comprising some 14 foreign governments and multinational companies (!), of conspiring against the kingdom to abort the program.

Parliament scheduled a session on May 29, in which it was supposed to vote on the dismissal of Toukan from his post after the accusations emerged. But, according to government sources, it backed off at the last minute under pressure from the royal court. Despite the palace's intervention, the pressure to strip Toukan of his post and put him on trial for alleged corruption and mismanagement is unlikely to let up.

Nuclear program off track
Jordan’s nuclear energy program has already been delayed considerably. In April 2007, the parliament decided to allow the construction of nuclear reactors and establish a nuclear program. Plan was to have a first reactor online in 2015. A year later construction was planned to start in 2012 and Aqaba was named as location. In early 2012, Mafraq, 4o km northeast of the capital Amman was named as site for the first reactor.

In March 2010, Toukan announced that Jordan would select the technology for its first nuclear reactor “within the next year”. Currently Jordan is scheduled to announce the site of its first nuclear reactor and the technology to be used by the end of 2012. The final agreement to build the nuclear reactor is scheduled to be signed in the second half of 2013.

In April, the JAEC shortlisted Russia's Atomstroyexport and a French-Japanese consortium consisting of Areva and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries as candidates to build the country's first nuclear reactor.

Environmentalists have been opposing the nuclear program over the last years, staging demonstrations and organizing people.

Sources: Trouw (Nl), 26 August 2007 / Xianhua, 22 December 2008 / Jordan Times, 15 February 2012 / Jordan Times, 16 & 30 May 2012 / Xinhua News Agency, 30 May 2012 / Jerusalem Post, 2 June 2012