Beginning in 2004 the Jordanian government began studying the Kingdom’s options to meet its rising energy needs, with nuclear power as one of the possibilities. Three years later King Abdullah II stated that Jordan was “looking at nuclear power for peaceful and energy purposes” and by the end of 2007 the government issued a revised and updated National Master Strategy of Energy, which called for six percent of Jordan’s electrical output to come from nuclear power by 2020.
Four years later, in September 2011 the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) issued a “White Paper on Nuclear Energy in Jordan” describing the results of a pre-feasibility study and further elaborating a national policy rationale for nuclear energy.
Jordan has completed the first stage of a tender for its nuclear energy program and intends to have at least one reactor connected to the grid by 2020. JAEC’s proposal is to have a 700-1200 MW reactor operating by 2020, and a second by 2025.
By any measure, Jordan’s energy situation is grim. The U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration notes, “Jordan, unlike its immediate neighbors, does not possess significant energy resources… As a result of its lack of significant energy resources, Jordan relies heavily on imports of crude oil, petroleum products, and natural gas to meet domestic energy demand.
Not have those imports been immune from the political turmoil sweeping the region. Following the outbreak of the Arab Spring two years ago, the Arab Gas Pipeline, which transports natural gas from Egypt to Jordan, has been attacked numerous times, forcing Jordan to spend increasing amounts of scarce hard currency on back-up fossil fuels for power generation, just at a time when oil prices have been increasing. Over the past two years the country has spent at least $1.4 billion on heavy fuel oil and diesel to replace lost gas from the AGP.
Adding to the allure of nuclear energy is Jordan’s discovery of uranium resources, which the government views as a potentially secure, domestic fuel source for its reactors, as well as a revenue source for funding its first nuclear power plant.
But some in the Kingdom are expressing sticker shock at the projected costs of embracing nuclear power, as Jordan’s worsening economic situation increases public concerns over how Jordan can afford a nuclear power program now estimated to cost at least $5 billion, with many arguing that the Kingdom should deploy more renewable energy resources instead.
Accordingly, Jordan’s policy makers have come under increasing pressure from the public to justify the enormous expenditure. With decreasing political and financial support, concerns about Jordan’s ambitious nuclear program have multiplied.
What may ultimately doom Jordan’s nuclear ambitions, however, is a resource even more scarce in the Kingdom than uranium – water.
Jordan’s Minister of Water Hazem Nasser has noted, “We live in a chronic water problem. And we are now at the edge of moving from a chronic water problem into a water crisis.”
Jordan’s Royal Commission for Water noted in its report, “Water for Life: Jordan’s Water Strategy, 2008-2022” that the Kingdom has an annual per capita water supply of 145 cubic meters. To put this figure in context, the United Nations describes nations with less than 500 cubic meters per person per year as having an “absolute scarcity” of water.
Fourteen years ago King Abdullah II commented, “Our Water situation forms a strategic challenge that cannot be ignored. We have to balance between drinking water needs and industrial and irrigation water requirements. Drinking water remains the most essential and the highest priority issue.”
And the shortages continue. Jordan’s Minister of Water and Irrigation HE Raed Abu Saud noted in the strategy report, “Jordan has very limited water resources. In 2007 the Demand exceeded Resources by 638 million cubic meters/year and the Allocations exceeded Resources by 73 million cubic meters… Water is an essential commodity for Municipal, Industrial and Agricultural uses. The increasing water deficit year-on-year poses a serious future threat that will impact all sectors.”
And nuclear power plants, whatever their design, are significant users of water for cooling purposes. Safa Al Jayoussi, an activist with Greenpeace in Jordan, succinctly summed up the issue, noting, “Nuclear power plants require large quantities of cooling water, usually from a large river or a large lake. But, in Jordan, we don’t really have any sources of water.”
While Jordan’s nascent nuclear power industry has its advocates, it may well be water, the Middle East’s most precious resource, rather than fiscal issues that shoves the country’s nuclear hopes farther into the future. As King Abdullah II noted, potable water “remains the most essential and the highest priority issue” and no one at the Water Ministry has yet advanced a plan how the Kingdom might make up its annual water deficit of 73 million cubic meters.
By. John C.K Daly of Oilprice.com