Last Updated: Tue Nov 02, 2010 17:57 pm (KSA) 14:57 pm (GMT)

Is nuclear energy suitable for Jordan?

Raouf Dabbas

The climate is changing and so are the economies of our time. World leaders are finally acknowledging that something needs to be done globally, and now, to save our planet. This means climate change must be minimized, which would involve reducing carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2020 globally.

The greatest contributor to carbon emissions is burning of fossil fuels, which takes place in many ways, from burning fuel in car engines to electric power plants. In order to curb carbon emission, the way energy is generated and consumed must be changed. There are many ways this daunting task can be accomplished; one is to improve energy efficiency and find alternative sources for a carbon neutral and sustainable energy.

In order not to trade one bad energy source with another, any alternative energy source must be thoroughly studied and examined from a sustainable development perspective to clearly understand what the trade-offs, the risks, benefits and the impact on the social and environmental situation are.

In other words, for the energy needs to be truly in line with sustainable development commitments, which many countries pledged through a process of ratification required by all international conferences, starting in 1992 - these include the Rio Conference, the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the Kyoto Protocol - the entire process of energy generation, including resource extraction and waste disposal, must ensure that the three important pillars of sustainable development are present and accounted for, that is, that the economic, social and environmental components are all working together without any of them taking precedence over the other.

There are many countries today making this transformation. Some have chosen to be leaders and try out new approaches, such as developing renewable energy sources, raising energy efficiency and even implementing carbon sequestration projects. Others chose to be more timid by applying more conventional methods, such as alternative organic fuels or even developing nuclear energy, which has been around for a while but due to either public outcry, the low cost of oil or catastrophic incidents has been put on the back burner.

What may be considered a viable solution for one country does not necessarily mean that it is suitable for others. There are usually justifiable driving forces that cause decision makers to choose this or that alternative, be they economic, social or political. Some base their decisions on their 2020 target of reducing carbon emissions, others take base them on national environmental and natural resource concerns, public opinion, economics or the suitability of their infrastructure. Whatever the reasoning behind any policy, it is the citizens’ and the future generations’ best interest which must take precedence.

Jordan is not unlike many other countries seeking to develop and prosper, and to provide citizens with the best of everything. It can be truly said that we have done well for ourselves, thanks to both our wonderful climate, natural resources and geographical location, and to the wise leadership of our King. He has led us through treacherous times and our country stood its ground in times of war and peace; through determination and steadfastness we have been successful in carving out a place among the respected nations of this world.

Jordan is a small country with big dreams and many of its aspirations have become physical realities in our lifetime. In order to be worthy of the global respect we currently enjoy, we must aspire to progress and develop continuously.

In many instances, political considerations, whether national, regional or international, influence the economic decisions. Our current rate of progress could not have come about had it not been for our resilience and ensuring accessibility to cost-effective energy sources.

Energy stands at the foundation of economic growth; it is certain that at times of enormous economic turbulence and shifting sands of politics the country must become energy self-sufficient if it is to preserve the achievements and continue to progress.

Undoubtedly, energy security is at stake, therefore it is only rational that we pursue what is most indigenously abundant, economically obtainable and technologically possible. But most importantly, we must pursue an energy source which will not, in any way, hold even the slightest probability of resulting in natural disasters or be vulnerable to terrorist threats.

There are concerns about why we contemplate the nuclear option. Many articles have been published by those who maintain its viability and sustainability, but there are also many relevant and distressing questions that have yet to be answered. One need not be a nuclear enthusiast nor have a deep knowledge of all there is to know about nuclear energy generation to be distressed. Any concerned person can ask uneasy questions. Those who have a much deeper knowledge of nuclear energy will share these concerns.

There are questions every Jordanian must ask. There are questions the government is expected to ask even if an ice factory were to be built, let along a nuclear reactor.

The media has informed the public that a tender was floated, inviting 10 international firms to carry out site studies and determine the most suitable location for the reactor, so the answers to questions should be readily available.

No doubt, we need energy, but why do we need energy that comes from a nuclear reactor? What other sources of energy does our country have? What is being done about these other energy sources? Are these other sources getting the same attention the nuclear energy gets? What has been done about the renewable energy resources that have been pursued for the past two decades?

For a country blessed with more than a generous share of solar energy, why isn’t there an independent renewable energy agency? Have all other options been exhausted, and therefore the country is forced, within the next decade, to have a nuclear reactor?

At a time when Germany, the US and other developed countries have taken conscious decisions to either phase-out or not pursue a nuclear option altogether, why has Jordan decided for the nuclear energy option?
Other concerns are related to the operation of the plant: how much water does a light water, or more precisely, Generation III nuclear reactor, need in order to keep its core cooled? How and where will this cooling water be discharged once it has completed its cycle? The issue of locating the nuclear plant is of paramount importance for obvious reasons. Where will the plant be located, geographically and geologically, so as not to be affected by seismic activities, contribute to visual pollution, be vulnerable to terrorist attacks, have access to cooling water and the national electric grid?

In the event that, God forbid, an unthinkable accident occurs, causing some of the cooling water to escape, like in Japan and other developed countries, how can we ensure that our underground water resources are not contaminated? How much nuclear waste (spent fuel) will be generated during the expected lifetime of such reactor? What type of nuclear waste treatment, processing technology or disposal method is being considered during the operational lifetime of the reactor? If the radioactive waste generated is to be exported for reprocessing or disposal, what are the costs associated with each option? If not, what is the economic cost associated with nuclear waste management in Jordan?

How many nuclear waste treatment companies exist in the world and where are they located? Such plant poses serious national security concerns due to the radioactive material handled during the operation and shipment of this material. Who will be responsible for its secure handling and what type of insurance will be demanded from the operators or owners of this technology and facility?

When all the capital and running costs related to the site erection, commissioning, raw material extraction, transportation, labor, security, reactor decommissioning, environmental mitigation, insurance, interest rate and waste management or disposal have been suitably addressed and implemented, what will a kilowatt-hour of electricity cost the consumer?

It is safe to assume that those who are in charge have asked these questions and, as such, should have very accurate and convincing answers. Such information is essential and must be disseminated among the citizens. These are very basic questions and the answers, which should also find their way in the newspapers for all to read, should be clear and basic. Transparency in case of such a monumental undertaking is needed and considered a right Jordanians deserve to have.

Many citizens who have heard or read about the new energy policy are concerned and consider this new energy source as a reckless endangerment.

Why have we chosen to effectively snub renewable energy development (the most abundant energy resource)?

The country cannot afford to make the wrong judgment and must not make any compromises that could cause a tragic disaster. Jordan has only 23km of shoreline in Aqaba, and approximately four major underground water resources, one-fourth of which are in the south. It is considered one of the four most water-challenged countries in the world.

Some countries claim that their actions are associated with concerns about climate change; others act out of economic necessity. Whatever the reasons, citizens of this earth must never lose sight of what is right.

*Published by THE JORDAN TIMES on Jan. 5.

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