(MENAFN - Jordan Times) The head of the Jordanian nuclear project declared on several occasions that electricity produced by a nuclear power plant would be "strategic for Jordan"; it would cost around 0.07 per kWh (today households pay JD0.033 per KWh monthly for the lowest electricity bill).
The head of the nuclear project, however, never explained why nuclear power plants would be "strategic" when they depend highly on foreign expertise and consume vast amounts of water.
At times, he even declared that electricity produced from nuclear energy might cost as low as 0.02 per kWh 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 a prerequisite for a project this size. Another is that the nuclear lobby refuses to calculate hidden values in the cost of the KWh, 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 did not believe that Jordan would ever go nuclear. No one believed that a country rated as fourth poorest in water around the globe could seriously be interested in nuclear power plants (NPPs), an industry heavily dependent on water. But the government was serious and as the years went by, major money was spent on the project while the mere basics were neglected.
The rule of thumb for any project 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 feasibility: "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 process that is transparent and stresses: "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 programme 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 programme 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 core requirements for entering the nuclear club. Had the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission started correctly with such basics, it might have had better communication with the Bani Hassan citizens of Mafraq, and perhaps the project would never have wasted 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, including the hidden costs, and would have led to the cancellation of the nuclear project. The construction of a NPP was quoted for 5.2 billion per 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 hidden costs, which are:
- NPPs need eight to ten years to be built and become operational. Jordan needs energy independence today. The cost of government subsidies for electricity (up to JD1.17 billion per year, according to press reports) for 10 years should be added to the feasibility of a NPP. This is equal to JD11.7 billion over 10 years, provided oil and gas market prices and subsidies remain the same.
- Strong infrastructure (ports and highways need to be upgraded) to allow the movement of heavy machinery (up to 800 tonnes per load) from port to site. This might cost hundreds of millions.
- Upgraded electrical grid to allow an entry of 1,100 MW from the NPPs. Jordan's largest grid line connects to the north with 1,000 MW and the second largest connects to the south with 400 MW. All grid lines should be upgraded to allow 1,100 MW (or maybe 2,200MW) and this might reach a solid 1 billion.
- Since NPPs require pure water, the cost of building a tertiary water purification plant (TWPP) next to Khirbet Samra Sewage Treatment Plant is three times more than that of a desalination plant). This would mean close to another 1 billion.
- The cost of the interest on the international loan needed to start up the project might reach an eight-digit figure annually, depending on the lender and interest rates imposed.
- After Fukushima, insurance of NPPs skyrocketed. Since the Fukushima catastrophe is estimated to cost Japan some 245 billion to clean up the fallout and contamination, no insurance company will sign new contracts if the annual premium is not in the nine digits.
- The cost of military protection is never considered, but due to fear of sabotage, this is thought to be in hundreds of millions for equipment and training.
- The cost of operation and maintenance over the 40-year lifetime of the NPPs, which is thought to be in the hundreds of millions, should be considered.
- The nuclear waste is believed to be not less than 300 tonnes per year. By international laws, nuclear waste has to remain in the originating country. Until today, no country in the world has permanent storage for nuclear waste, and all storage is temporary. All storage depends highly on water supply. Storage is a major cost.
- The cost of decommissioning an NPP should also be calculated. Estimates for today's decommissioning of a 1,000 MW plant could reach a billion. If Jordan will decommission its first NPP in 2062, the cost then might reach 10 to 20 billion.
- Finally, the NPP is expected to use the treated sewage water of Amman and Zarqa. This water is turned into grey water that feeds King Talal Dam via Zarqa River, then joins the Jordan Valley East Canal, and is extremely important for agriculture in the valley. It is estimated that 25 million cubic metres will be consumed annually by one NPP. The cost of 50 million cubic metres 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.
In case of solar or wind energies, the above hidden costs are negligible, particularly keeping in mind that a commercial renewable energy megaproject could be commissioned in 12 months.
If the hidden costs are taken into calculation, nuclear energy can be expected to exceed 0.25 per kWh. Is nuclear energy, then, a realistic option for Jordan's urgent need for energy independence?
The writer is president of the Jordanian Friends of Environment. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.