Jordan’s plans highlight the political stakes of the increasing interest in nuclear power in and around the gulf region, particularly among oil-rich but energy-hungry regimes such as the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Toukan said in an interview that the shortlist was a “neck-and-neck” contest between a bid led by Russia’s Rosatom and another headed by Areva of France and Japan’s Mitsubishi.
He said Jordan’s nuclear efforts were driven by its almost total dependence on oil and gas imports for energy generation and a domestic energy shortfall estimated to reach 6.8 gigawatts by 2030. The country, a hereditary monarchy of 6.25 million people, is economically troubled and has been plagued by sporadic unrest since the start of the uprisings that began to sweep the Arab world more than two years ago.
“We are living now in an energy crisis, a very serious crisis,” Toukan said.
While it was unclear how the Jordan project would be financed, insiders said it was given impetus by seed funding drawn from a broad development aid grant given to Jordan by the UAE. A Jordanian nuclear delegation is visiting the UAE this week. Observers said the UAE government was keen to help Amman because it wanted access to the country’s atomic fuel reserves and technical expertise for its own project to build four nuclear reactors with a total 5.6-gigawatt capacity by 2020.
“They [Jordan] have uranium — and they are churning out nuclear qualified engineers,” said one person familiar with the matter.
The Emirates Nuclear Energy Corp., which is implementing the UAE’s nuclear program, said there had been “positive conversations to explore collaboration opportunities” with Jordan, although no contractual or financial commitments had been signed.
The UAE nuclear plan is the most advanced of several in oil-rich gulf states, whose petrodollars mean they have capital to invest.
Officials in Saudi Arabia, the gulf region’s biggest power, have floated plans to build 16 reactors by 2030.
But the stop-start history of Jordan’s nuclear program shows the potential political obstacles facing Arab states’ atomic ambitions.
Amman had hoped to choose a building consortium in late 2011, but Jordan’s King Abdullah accused Israel last year of trying to derail the initiative by warning off potential partners. Israel dismissed the charge. Shaul Horev, head of the Israel Atomic Energy Commission, said in September that his country supported “the use of nuclear power by its neighbors to meet their energy and water needs.”