Friday, 5 December 2014

Could Nuclear Power Offer Jordan Energy Security?

Achieving energy security is considered to be the primary target of Jordan’s energy policy. Many countries in the Middle East and all over the world aim to reduce their reliance on foreign energy supply or at least minimize any potential disruption to their energy supply. Over the past few decades Jordan has suffered two major energy shocks: the loss of the subsidized oil from Saudi Arabia following the second Gulf war and loss of the Iraqi oil supply that was given to Jordan almost for free after the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. More recently, the Egyptian pipeline that supplies Jordan with natural gas, that was used to produce most of Jordan’s electricity, was attacked several times since 2011, disrupting gas-fired electricity production and forcing Jordan to shift to diesel and heavy oil to meet demand. This unexpected shift to more costly fuels is believed to have had a substantial impact on Jordan’s budget.
Jordan's proposed nuclear power plant site in Qasr Amra 
In energy policy debates, energy security is often defined by the end product such as oil, gas or nuclear electricity and not as a whole process or system that has many parts and dependencies. Building a nuclear power plant on Jordan’s soil would not alleviate Jordan’s reliance of foreign exports and technology. In fact, given Jordan’s technological and geopolitical status, nuclear power will likely promote such reliance. Establishing a fully indigenous nuclear program requires a full control over the nuclear fuel cycle, which is a chain of interdependent activities that includes uranium enrichment and waste management. With regard to uranium enrichment, Jordan’s current position is to forgo this option. This essentially means that Jordan would have to rely on foreign imports of enriched uranium—most likely from the country from which its reactor technology has been imported. This high level of technical cooperation and dependency on the technology and the fuel exporting country would have an impact on Jordan’s foreign policy and its political alignments, globally and regionally.

Another aspect of Jordan’s policy to achieve energy security is to diversify energy resources. Besides nuclear power, this includes investing in solar and other renewable energy resources. Jordan’s slim budget, however, hinders the possibility of embarking on a large-scale energy diversification project. Since nuclear and renewable technologies are capital intensive, this would limit Jordan’s affordability to run parallel massive investments. If Jordan decided to go for nuclear power, then the first impact of this policy probably would be much more limited, if not zero, funding available for renewable resources. This demonstrates that nuclear power has an opportunity cost associated with forgoing investments in potentially more economic and environmentally and socially favored renewable resources, particularly solar energy.