Jordan eyes nuclear power supply, Russia bids to build four reactor power plants

March 12, 2012 3:52 pm

An additional four new reactors is a pertinent project for a country importing the majority of its power, while potentially sitting on substantial uranium reserves, according to Tim Armsby, partner and Mena expert at international law firm Eversheds.

“This is very significant for Jordan as an energy consumer. Jordan has for some time been looking to diversify its energy production. This resulted in the construction of the Arab Gas Pipeline to purchase gas from Egypt as well as a number of renewable energy initiatives.

“It is also seeking to develop further its own (limited) gas reserves and has awarded three concessions to develop oil shale resources. Unlike some other countries in the region looking at nuclear, Jordan is thought to have significant uranium reserves and is dependent on imports for the majority of its power production.”

Jordan looks to reduce energy import bill with nuclear power

The kingdom’s finances and energy supply have been under considerable strain with rising domestic demand, high energy prices and, recently, a frequent disruption of natural gas supplies due to attacks on the Egypt pipeline. As such, Jordan has for several years now been working to boost domestic energy supplies. The aim is to slash energy imports from where they stand today at 95%, to around 60% by 2020, according to Fares Ghneim, former Masdar communications chief.

“The economic significance of developing domestic energy supplies is that these would reduce the fuel import bill. Jordan’s finances are very strained and every additional dollar in the oil price increases the burden on the government; domestic fuel supplies would therefore provide a huge relief. Fuel subsidies were removed a few years ago, so there is also a domestic politics angle in the need to find local energy supplies.”

Jordan hopes to achieve this target by developing a mix of local energy sources, bringing in international partners like Shell to help develop the country’s significant oil shale deposits and BP to boost production at its sole natural gas field, while at the same time exploring renewable and alternative energy solutions of which nuclear power is key. An initial nuclear plant was linked to Qatar Islamic bank earlier this month, with a reported $5bn investment.

Jordan’s nuclear plans could stir up tensions in the Middle East and across the Atlantic

Any Middle East nuclear program, or talks of such developments in the wider Muslim world, will inevitably draw parallels to Iran. The US in particular will be keen to show that Middle Eastern countries, like Jordan and the UAE, are free to and capable of developing nuclear programs peacefully. In other words, according to Ghneim, the US will be keen to show it does not object to the development of nuclear energy programs when countries ‘cooperate with the international community’ and demonstrate transparency.

However, there has been some dispute between the US and Jordan over the kingdom’s capability to enrich its own uranium, which was the sticking point for the current Iran tensions. With that in mind, and the fact that Jordan is notably still a major recipient of USAID, this kind of disagreement has high stakes for Amman.

“The Jordanians will argue that it makes sense to enrich the fuel in-country because it wants to mine and use its own uranium. The US and others will play the nuclear proliferation card and argue that uranium enrichment is the first step toward developing atomic weapons. For its part, the UAE has foresworn any intention to develop its own nuclear fuel,” explains Ghneim.