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[AMMAN] Jordan is to enter the nuclear age with the announcement on 9 December that construction of its first nuclear research and training reactor will begin by February next year.

The Jordan Centre for Nuclear Research, which will host the reactor, will be built at the Jordan University of Science and Technology, about 70 kilometres north of Amman.

Nedal Xoubi, nuclear fuel cycle commissioner of the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC), told SciDev.Net that the Jordan Research and Training Reactor (JRTR) will be built at the centre at an estimated cost of US$130 million. The building's foundation was laid last month (23 November).

"The new reactor is a keystone in the nuclear infrastructure of Jordan, as a new generation of nuclear engineers and scientists will be trained in the facility," he said.

A South Korean consortium is building the five-megawatt reactor, which will be used for radioisotope production and training and is expected to be fully operational by 2015.

A full nuclear plant will follow, in line with plans to lessen Jordan's dependence on fossil fuel.

"[We want] to transform Jordan from a net energy importer to a net electricity exporter by 2030, with the aim of making low-cost power available to sustain the country's continued economic growth, and to desalinate very much-needed water," said Khalid Touqan, chairman of Jordan Atomic Energy Commission.

"The pursuit of nuclear power is of crucial importance to a country like Jordan, which imports 96 per cent of its energy at a cost of 20 per cent of its gross domestic product and which faces severe water shortages," he said, adding that the kingdom has estimated uranium oxide reserves of about 70,000 tonnes.

But Ahmad Al-Malabeh, professor of earth and environmental sciences in the Faculty of Natural Resources and Environment at the Hashemite University, said: "Having such an ambitious nuclear project requires creating a functioning system for radioactive waste management, in order to avoid an environmental disaster".

Al-Malabeh said that the JAEC should have been subject to an economic feasibility study to compare it with solar power.

"They focused on the nuclear option because of the existence of significant quantities of uranium, despite the fact that Jordan is in the solar belt, which is excellent for generating solar power."

Ahmad Alkofahi, the executive director of the Jordan Environment Society, said: "The environmental societies [of Jordan] are not against initiating a nuclear reactor, but solar and wind power should be initiated in the same way, as they are much better environmentally and economically".

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