Nuclear Power in Jordan

(Updated May 2014)

  • Jordan imports most of its energy and seeks greater energy security as well as lower electricity prices.
  • It is aiming to have a 1000 MWe nuclear power unit in operation by 2021 and a second one in operation by 2025.
  • Jordan has significant uranium resources, some in phosphorite deposits.

Jordan imports over 95% of its energy needs, at a cost of about one-fifth of its GDP. It generated 14.3 billion kWh, mostly from natural gas, and imported 0.4 billion kWh of electricity in 2009 for its six million people. In 2012, due to gas supply constraints from Egypt, its electricity supply was 25% from natural gas imported (unreliably), 32% from heavy fuel oil, 32% from diesel, and 11% was imported.

It has 2400 MWe of generating capacity and expects to need 3600 MWe by 2015, 5000 MWe by 2020 and 8000 MWe by 2030 when it expects doubled electricity consumption. About 6800 MWe of new plant is needed by 2030, with one third of this projected to be nuclear. Per capita electricity consumption is about 2000 kWh/yr. Jordan has regional grid connection of 500 MWe with Egypt, 300 MWe with Syria, and it is increasing links with Israel and Palestine. This will both increase energy security and provide justification for larger nuclear units.

Also it has a "water deficit" of about 600 million cubic metres per year (1500 demand, 900 supply). It pumps about 60 million m3/yr of fossil subartesian water from the Disi/Saq aquifer, and this is set to rise to 160 million m3/yr in 2013. It contains elevated, but not hazardous, levels of radionuclides, principally radium. (Drinking 2 litres per day would give a dose of 1.0 to 1.5 mSv/yr.)

Jordan's 2007 national energy strategy envisaged 29% of primary energy from natural gas, 14% from oil shale, 10% from renewables and 6% from nuclear by 2020.

Nuclear power plans

Jordan's Committee for Nuclear Strategy, set up in 2007, set out a program for nuclear power to provide 30% of electricity by 2030, and to provide for exports. The nuclear law was modified in 2007 to establish the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) and the Jordan Nuclear Regulatory Commission (JNRC), including radiation protection and environmental roles.

JAEC's functions include safety and security, nuclear science and technology, and safeguards and verification. Its commission is to transform Jordan from net energy importer to net electricity exporter by 2030, to provide power to fuel economic growth at low cost, and to end dependence on fossil fuels. Its strategy includes exploiting national uranium assets, promoting public/private partnerships, ensuring effective technology transfer and national participation, providing for water desalination and eventually hydrogen production, developing spin-off industries, and enabling competitive energy-intensive industries.

In mid-2008 an agreement between JAEC and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) with SNC-Lavalin was to conduct a three-year feasibility study on building an AECL 740 MWe Enhanced Candu-6 reactor using natural uranium fuel, for power and desalination. In August 2008 it was reported that the government intended to sign up for an Areva reactor, and subsequent discussions pointed to an 1100 MWe unit, presumably from Atmea, the Areva-Mitsubishi joint venture which is developing such a unit for countries embarking upon nuclear power programs.

In December 2008 JAEC signed a memorandum of understanding with Korea Electric Power Corp (KEPCO, parent company of KHNP) to carry out site selection and feasibility study on nuclear power and desalination projects. This is related to Doosan Heavy Industries, Korea's main nuclear equipment maker, carrying out desalination-related work in Jordan under a separate recent agreement, and KEPCO having won a tender to build a 400 MWe gas-fired power plant on a build-own-operate basis. Up to 40% of the capacity of any nuclear plant built on the coast would likely be used for desalination.

Site options with seawater cooling are limited to 30 kilometres of Red Sea coast near Aqaba. In September 2009 JAEC contracted with Tractabel Engineering, a subsidiary of GdF Suez, to undertake a two-year siting study for the new plant some 25 km south of Al Aqabah and 12 km east of the Gulf of Aqaba coastline. Discussion of environmental aspects took place with Israel and Egypt. However, late in 2010 the proposed location for the first reactor became Al Amra in the Majdal area in northern Al Mafraq province, about 40 km from Amman, due to better seismic characteristics, and Tractabel turned its attention to defining a site there. The plant needs to have PGA seismic level of 400 gal for safe shutdown. Cooling water will come from the municipal Khirbet Samra Wastewater Treatment Plant, with the cooling system modeled on that at Palo Verde in Arizona, USA, which also uses wastewater for cooling. In January 2014 it was announced that an expert team from the International Atomic Energy Agency is to visit the Qusayr Amra region east of Amman in April to evaluate studies on the proposed site. 

In November 2009 JAEC signed an $11.3 million agreement with WorleyParsons for the pre-construction phase of a nuclear power plant with two 1000 MWe-class reactors. The firm carried out technology selection – preparing the tender and evaluating bidders, as well as assisting in fuel cycle engineering and waste management plans for the plant. It would also assist in establishing a utility company, expected to be a public-private entity with up to 75% equity from an experienced strategic partner, to own and operate the plant.

In 2009 the JAEC evaluated seven offers from at least four reactor vendors, and in May 2010 three vendors and designs were short listed, the Atmea1 from Areva-MHI, the AECL EC6, and the AES-92 from Atomstroyexport. In April 2012 the field was narrowed to two: Atmea1 and AES-92, both around 1000 MWe. JAEC and WorleyParsons pursued discussions first on the actual reactor designs and secondly "on the financing and organization support that the vendor will be providing for future operation of the plant." For Jordan, this is the major consideration.

In October 2013 JAEC announced that Rosatom's reactor export subsidiary AtomStroyExport (ASE) would be the supplier of two AES-92 nuclear units, while Rusatom Overseas will be strategic partner and operator of the plant. Russia will contribute 49.9% of the project's $10 billion cost, with the Jordanian government possibly putting up the remaining 50.1%, though the plant will be provided on a build-own-operate (BOO) basis.* A six-month period of exclusive negotiation with Rosatom will now be needed to finalise contracts, and the government does not intend to make a final decision on proceeding until late in 2015. Target date for operation of the first unit is 2021. A financial adviser to assist the project is also to be announced.

* In May 2013 JAEC said that the two proposals had been too expensive and no strategic investor had been found, so it was now considering reopening bids to include small modular reactors which would better suit its overall electricity supply situation. This would be logical given the small grid, but for an initial plant the idea appears to be moot.

Earlier, in February 2011, the Energy Minister announced that JAEC had short-listed GDF Suez, Rosatom, Datang International Power Generation Co. and Kansai Electric Power Co. as possible strategic partners to invest in and operate the new plant of about 2000 MWe, with the government retaining 26-51% of the equity. Jordan was looking at limited recourse financing with a debt-equity ratio of at least 70-30, and wanted to set up a long-term (eg 45-year) power purchase contract, with the government guaranteeing part of the debt. The overnight cost was expected to be $4900/kW, hence likely $9.8 billion apart from financing, though a later estimate was EUR 12 billion. JAEC expected to start building one 750-1200 MWe nuclear power unit for operation by 2020 and a second one for operation by 2025. The UAE is reported to be supporting the project and exploring collaborative arrangements.

Planned nuclear reactors in Jordan
    MWe gross construction start operation
  VVER-1000/V-392 1060 2016 2021
  VVER-1000/V-392 1060    

Longer-term, four nuclear reactors are envisaged, and separately to the 2020-13 tender process Rosatom had offered to supply these on a build, own and operate (BOO) basis similar to its project in Turkey. Rosatom would establish a project company and eventually offer 49% of it to local investors. Further nuclear projects will involve desalination.

However, in May 2012 the lower house of parliament voted 36 to 27 in favour of a recommendation by the parliamentary Energy & Mineral Resources Committee to suspend the country’s nuclear program, including uranium exploration. The Committee’s report accused the JAEC of misleading parliament. However, JAEC says the motion was qualified in effect to endorse its cautious proceeding, and developments since then support this.

Small reactors are also on JAEC’s agenda, to follow the first large one. In November 2013 JAEC said it would build several small reactors of about 180 MWe capacity.

Uranium resources

The country has low-cost uranium resources of 140,000 tU plus another 59,000 tU in phosphate deposits, and plans to mine these have been announced by the government. A feasibility study on recovering uranium as a by-product of phosphate production is under way.

In October 2008 a joint venture between JAEC and Areva was established to define uranium resources in central Jordan, and in February 2010 this became the JV company Nabatean Energy. Areva in 2010 secured an agreement giving it exclusive uranium mining rights in central Jordan for 25 years. Areva said its goal was "to create a full partnership with Jordan on training and obtaining nuclear technology".

About 2008 the Jordan French Uranium Mining Company (JFUMC) was set up as a joint venture between Areva and Jordan Energy Resources Inc. (JERI) and traded as Jordan Areva Resources. It operated within a 1,400 sq km concession area in the central region, including the Siwaqa, Khan Azzabib, Wadi Maghar and Attarat areas. In June 2012 JFUMC said it had identified over 20,000 tU resources in a 72 sq km area. It would carry out a feasibility study on mining by August 2012, and the Minister for Energy and Mineral Resources earlier said that development of an open pit mine would begin in 2013, for operation from 2015. However, in October 2012 JAEC terminated the JFUMC joint venture mining licence due to JFUMC failing "to submit its report on time". Areva insisted that the actual JFUMC agreement related only to exploration, not mining, and expired naturally in 2012 anyway. In January 2013 the state-owned Jordan Uranium Mining Co (JUMCO) was established with the same broad remit as JFUMC.

A further 22,000 tU is reported at Hasa and Qatrana, 80 km south of Amman, following 2010-11 work by Jordan Energy Resources Inc (JERI), a commercial arm of JAEC. This is in the Qatrana phosphorites, where uranium at 0.015-0.017% would be a co-product with phosphates and vanadium. About 52 Mt of phosphate is reported, but neither this nor the uranium is as JORC-compliant resources. JERI called for bids from major mining companies to develop seven separate blocks comprising the deposit late in 2012. 

In May 2014 JUMCO announced that it would build a 300-400 tU/yr uranium mill in the country’s central region, about 80 km south of Amman, where resources of 30,800 tU are known. It is seeking strategic partners for the $140 million venture, but will retain a majority interest. It is expected to be operational before 2020.

Some uranium mineralisation is also reported at Rweished near the Iraq border in the far northeast. China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) has been searching for uranium at Hamra-Hausha in the north, and Wadi Baheyya in the south, while Rio Tinto was searching in Wadi Sahab/Sahra Abiad, close to the Saudi Arabian border, but withdrew in 2011.

Research & Development

In December 2009 the JAEC selected a consortium headed by the Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) with Daewoo to build a 5 MW research and training reactor (JRTR) at the Jordan University for Science & Technology in Irbid by 2015 – the country's first. Cost is expected to be $173 million. The reactor, similar to South Korea's HANARO heavy water reactor, will use 19% enriched fuel and will have the potential to upgrade to 10 MW. The country’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission (JNRC) gave its final approval in August 2013.

The Korean consortium was reported to be bidding against firms from Argentina, China and Russia. It will be financed partly by a $70 million soft loan from South Korea, with 0.2% interest rate and repayment over 30 years. The JRTR will serve as an integral part of the nuclear technology infrastructure and will become the focal point for a Nuclear Science and Technology Centre (NSTC) with a key role in educating and training future generations of nuclear engineers and scientists. It will supply radioisotopes for medicine, industry and agriculture.

Organisation and regulation

In 2007 the nuclear law was amended to establish the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) and the Jordan Nuclear Regulatory Commission (JNRC), including radiation protection and environmental roles.

International agreements, Non-proliferation

Jordan has signed nuclear cooperation agreements with France, Canada, UK, and Russia in respect to both power and desalination, and is developing its plans in line with the IAEA recommendations. It has signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with China, covering uranium mining in Jordan and nuclear power, and others with South Korea, Japan, Spain, Italy, Romania, Turkey and Argentina related to infrastructure including nuclear power and desalination. 

A January 2014 agreement with Saudi Arabia covers research related to nuclear energy and technologies, design, construction and operation of nuclear reactors. It includes "innovative new generations of nuclear reactors" plus safeguards technologies, nuclear materials controls, the preparation of nuclear safety and radiation protection legislation, environmental protection and human resources development. The agreement is also to "ensure transparency in the licensing and operation of nuclear facilities in the border area".

A full nuclear cooperation agreement with USA is pending, though the USA wants Jordan to emulate UAE and rule out uranium enrichment.

Jordan joined the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) in 2007.

It has had a safeguards agreement in force with the IAEA since 1978, and an Additional Protocol in force since 1998.