Is Nuclear Energy a Realistic Option for Jordan’s Urgent Energy Needs?

June 27, 2012

By Basel Burgan – President of the Jordan Friends of Environment Society

The head of the Jordanian nuclear project, Dr. Khaled Touqan, has declared on several occasions that electricity potentially produced from a Jordanian nuclear power plant will be “strategic for Jordan” and will cost around $ 0.07/Kw-h (today households pay JD 0.033/Kw-h for the lowest consumption ranges in the monthly electricity bill). Touqan, however, has never explained why nuclear power plants (NPP) would be “strategic” when such plants depend highly on foreign expertise and consume vast amounts of water. At other times, Touqan has even declared that electricity produced from nuclear energy might cost as low as $ 0.02/Kw-h. There are many reasons behind this  variation in projected costs: One is that the nuclear project managers have not yet delivered a feasibility study which is the basic prerequisite of a mega project this size. Another reason is that the nuclear lobby refuses to calculate hidden values in the cost of the Kw-h, which are many and could double or triple the net cost calculation.


Six years have passed since Jordan publicly announced its willingness to enter the world nuclear club. At first, environmentalists and activists never believed that Jordan would ever go nuclear. No one believed that a country rated as the world’s fourth poorest in water could seriously be interested in NPPs; a heavily water-dependent industry. But the government was serious, and as the years went by, serious money was spent on the project while the mere basics were neglected.


The rule of thumb for any project (even as small as a chicken farm) is to produce a feasibility study to prove its value. The June 2006 regulation # TECDOC-1513 of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) indicates clearly in the introduction on page 1 the need for a feasibility study:


“The stages of the development of the basic infrastructure (for NPP) include:

·         Development of nuclear power policy and its formal adoption by the government.

·         Confirmation of the feasibility of implementing a nuclear power project.”

The IAEA TECDOC-1513 insists on a transparent process which duly addresses the following:


“The issues of nuclear project safety, cost, and environmental management of nuclear waste are well known to the public and the proponents of nuclear power will need to demonstrate that they are properly addressed and their impacts on the development program are considered. It is very likely, for example, to face significant difficulties in the public acceptability of the nuclear option if no thought is given to the concept of waste management since the impact of this issue on future generations is of great concern to the public.


It is clear that not all aspects of the nuclear power program could be examined at this stage to the extent needed in the implementation stage. However, a rational outline of the manner of dealing with all issues is necessary for the plan to be presentable to the public and defendable by the authorities.”


The IAEA is right to insist on a feasibility study plus transparency with the public, both as core requirements for entering the nuclear club. Had the JAEC started properly with such basics, it might have had better communication with the citizens of Mafraq, and perhaps the project would never have wasted U$ 200 million over six years (expenditure of JAEC, Tractebel & Worley Parsons consultants, and the Nuclear Research Reactor in JUST). Instead, it would have been shelved from inception.


The feasibility study would have exposed the cost of building the NPP and its operation with all hidden costs very clearly exposed, and would have led to the cancelation of the nuclear project.  The construction of a nuclear power plant was quoted for a huge sum of U$ 5.2 billion per one reactor by French Areva (one NPP cannot be very effective since maintenance over a period of one month is obligatory every 18 months. Thus two NPPs are needed in order to keep operations running.). This offer did not include the unannounced hidden costs, which are:

1-      A nuclear power plant needs eight to ten years to be built and become operational. Jordan needs energy independence today. The cost of the government subsidies for electricity (up to JD 1.17 billion per year – AlGhad June 5th, 2012) for ten years should be added to the feasibility of a NPP. This is equal to JD 11.7 billion over 10 years provided oil & gas market prices and subsidies remain the same.


2-      The need for strong infrastructure (ports & highways needs to be upgraded) to allow the movement of heavy machinery (up to 800 tons per load) from port to site. This might cost hundreds of millions of JDs.


3-      The need to upgrade the electrical grid to allow an entry of 1100 MW from the NPPs. Jordan’s largest grid line connects to the north with 1000 MW and the second largest connects to the south with 400 MW. All grid lines should be upgraded to allow 1100MW (or may be 2200MW) and this might reach a solid U$ 1 billion in costs.


4-      Since NPPs require pure water, the cost of building a Tertiary Water Purification Plant (TWPP) next to Khirbet Al-Samra sewage treatment plant (TWPP are three times more expensive than a desalination plant) is another sum close to U$ 1 billion.


5-      The cost of the interest over the international loan needed to start up the project might reach enormous figures depending on the lender and interest rates imposed. This could be an eight digit figure annually.


6-      After Fukushima, insurance of NPPs skyrocketed. Since the Fukushima catastrophe is estimated to cost Japan some U$ 245 billion in its clean up of the fallout and contamination, no insurance company will sign new contracts if the annual premium is not in the 9 digits.


7-      The cost of military protection is never considered, but due to enormous fear of sabotage in the region, as much as Jordan potentially spends on its NPP military protection plan, it gets back in security and long term operation. This is thought to be in hundreds of millions for equipment and training.


8-      Cost of operation and maintenance over the 40 years life cycle of the NPPs, which is thought to be in the hundreds of millions, should be considered.


9-      Cost of storage of nuclear waste, which is believed to be no less than 300 tons per year. By international laws, nuclear waste has to remain in its originating country. Until today, no country in the world has permanent storage for nuclear waste, and all storage is temporary.  All storage highly depends on water supply. Of note is a major scandal about a temporary storage site in Germany which was leaking into the underground waters for years without being noticed. Storage is a major cost.


10-   The cost of decommissioning a NPP should also be calculated. Estimates for today’s decommissioning of a 1000 MW plant range from $ 700 million to a billion. If we believe that Jordan will decommission its first NPP in 2062, the cost then might reach $10 to 20 billion.


11-   Finally, we should not forget that the NPP is expected to use the treated sewage water of Amman & Zarka. This water is basically turned into grey water that feeds King Talal Dam via Zarka River then joins the Jordan Valley East Canal and is extremely important for agriculture watering in the valley. It is estimated that 25 million cubic meters will be consumed annually by one NPP. The cost of 50 million cubic meters of water for two NPPs should be calculated in agriculture production whereby it could produce some $60 million worth of vegetables annually. This should also be added to the cost.


When we address renewable energy (such as Solar or Wind energies) as a source of energy instead of the nuclear option, the above 11 hidden factors of cost are negligible, keeping in mind that a commercial mega renewable energy project could be commissioned in 12 months. If we calculate hidden costs, nuclear energy will exceed $0.35/Kw-h. I ask: is nuclear energy a realistic option for Jordan’s urgent need for energy independence?

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