Jor­dan ea­ger to reach nuke deal with US

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL -

AM­MAN—Jor­dan is ea­ger to reach a nu­clear co­op­er­a­tion deal with the United States af­ter a long im­passe over ura­nium en­rich­ment and both sides ap­pear ready to com­pro­mise, the king­dom’s nu­clear chief said.

An agree­ment would give Jor­dan ac­cess to US tech­nol­ogy, in­clud­ing small mo­du­lar re­ac­tors that could fit well into the coun­try’s fledg­ling nu­clear en­ergy pro­gram, said Khaled Toukan, chair­man of the Jor­dan Atomic En­ergy Com­mis­sion.

For now, the cen­ter­piece of Jor­dan’s pro­gram is a $10 bil­lion deal with Rus­sia for two larger nu­clear power re­ac­tors, to be built by 2025.

Toukan ac­knowl­edged in an in­ter­view that fi­nanc­ing isn’t locked in yet and that Jor­dan is still look­ing for a third part­ner.

The prob­a­bil­ity of the two re­ac­tors be­ing built is “70 to 75 (per­cent) ... it is not 90 per­cent,” he told The Associated Press on Sun­day in his of­fice on the edge of the cap­i­tal of Am­man. He said some large firms ap­proached by Jor­dan ex­pressed in­ter­est and that he be­lieves the prob­lem can be solved.

Even if the Rus­sia deal fell through, “we will still pur­sue nu­clear, but maybe not the big re­ac­tor, maybe we will have these small mo­du­lar re­ac­tors,” he said.

In any sce­nario, an agree­ment with the United States could be key.

“It is im­por­tant for us to have the US on board,” Toukan said. “Even if we build the Rus­sian re­ac­tors, you might have small mo­du­lar re­ac­tors for wa­ter de­sali­na­tion in the fu­ture.”

Jor­dan launched its nu­clear pro­gram al­most a decade ago to ad­dress the coun­try’s wors­en­ing en­ergy woes. Jor­dan has to im­port fos­sil fu­els for 98 per­cent of its elec­tric­ity, de­mand keeps ris­ing and the coun­try buck­les un­der grow­ing debt from en­ergy im­ports.

Jor­dan needs a mix of al­ter­na­tives, in­clud­ing nu­clear en­ergy, said Toukan.

Do­mes­tic crit­ics say Jor­dan rushed into a risky pro­gram it can­not af­ford at the ex­pense of de­vel­op­ing so­lar and wind en­ergy and that Toukan’s com­mis­sion lacks trans­parency and over­sight.

Toukan ig­nored warn­ings by ex­perts voic­ing safety con­cerns, said Saed Dabab­neh, a for­mer vice chair­man of Jor­dan’s nu­clear reg­u­la­tory com­mis­sion.

“There is now, in my view, only one way ... to prove that our con­cerns are jus­ti­fied, that is for a disaster to hap­pen,” Dabab­neh wrote in re­sponse to a re­quest for com­ment.

US-based ex­pert Chen Kane said nu­clear en­ergy may not be the right fit. “I think nu­clear en­ergy is a way too ex­pen­sive, risky and un­pre­dictable op­tion” for Jor­dan, said Kane, di­rec­tor of the Mid­dle East pro­gram at the James Martin Cen­ter for Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Stud­ies.

Toukan said Jor­dan has sub­mit­ted to strin­gent in­ter­na­tional over­sight, in­clud­ing a re­view by a high-level In­ter­na­tional Ad­vi­sory Group.

In its re­port, to be pub­lished later this month, the panel said Jor­dan is on a “wellplanned path” to ac­quir­ing nu­clear en­ergy, in­clud­ing train­ing lo­cal sci­en­tists at a do­mes­tic re­search re­ac­tor.

The panel said Jor­dan could do more to bring the public on board and should get more in­ter­na­tional ex­perts in­volved. Fi­nanc­ing of the two power re­ac­tors ap­pears “some­what neb­u­lous” and the 2025 dead­line for com­plet­ing two re­ac­tors is “overly op­ti­mistic,” the re­port said.

Mean­while, re­vived nu­clear talks with the US could open the door to al­ter­na­tives, such as the smaller re­ac­tors.

Talks stalled af­ter Jor­dan re­fused to drop the right to pur­sue fu­ture ura­nium en­rich­ment ca­pa­bil­i­ties which can have peace­ful and mil­i­tary uses.

As part of non-pro­lif­er­a­tion ef­forts, the US in­sisted that Jor­dan forego that right, as the United Arab Emi­rates pre­vi­ously did in a deal with Wash­ing­ton. Jor­dan which has some ura­nium de­posits said it should not be asked to close the door to fu­ture en­rich­ment for peace­ful pur­poses. Toukan sug­gested that there is room for com­pro­mise.

“We are try­ing to find an in­tel­li­gent way in the mid­dle to more or less give the US as­sur­ance about non-pro­lif­er­a­tion, safe­guards and so on, but at the same time not re­lin­quish­ing rights un­der in­ter­na­tional treaties,” he said.

The US Em­bassy in Jor­dan said it hopes a deal can be reached that re­flects the US-Jor­dan part­ner­ship and a “shared com­mit­ment to nu­clear non­pro­lif­er­a­tion, safety, and se­cu­rity.”—Agencies are still look­ing for a Gulf man and an Asian who as­sisted one of the cells, the min­istry said.

The ac­tion against the cells comes a year af­ter an ISIS-linked sui­cide bomber blew him­self up in a Shi­ite mosque, killing 26 wor­ship­pers in the worst at­tack in Kuwait.

A court sen­tenced one man to death and jailed eight oth­ers for as­sist­ing the Saudi bomber.—Agencies

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