Jordan's ambitions to become a regional nuclear research hub have encountered setbacks following a parliamentary suspension, on 30 May, of the country's nuclear programme and a wave of anti-nuclear protests.
A report by the parliamentary energy committee's in May concluded that Jordan's nuclear programme would be "hazardous and costly". This led parliament to suspend the programme, pending full safety and economic impact studies by the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC).
Last month (22 June), Jordan's Chemical and Physical Analysis Laboratory (CPAL) received international accreditation from the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation, paving the way for its transformation into a regional training centre for nuclear science.
However, this was swiftly followed by a petition delivered to the South Korean embassy in Amman — the construction of Jordan's nuclear research reactor is implemented by a South Korean business consortium — to stop work on the reactor. Critics and protestors accused the consortium of jeopardising public safety and ignoring international regulations, which insist on community approval for reactor construction.
"Experiments taking place in the research reactor will be done by students and researchers who lack experience in the management of potential disasters, making the community vulnerable to all types of research errors," Basel Burkan, head of the Jordan Environment Society (JES) told SciDev.Net.
"Unless JAEC carries out all necessary studies on the plant's impacts, the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] will never accredit it," he added.
But Khaled Toukan, chairman of the JAEC, told SciDev.Net: "the work will be resumed shortly after delivering economic feasibility and environmental impact studies to the government ".
With a fully-equipped laboratory in place, Jordan would have the technical and human resources to serve as a 'training ground' for Arab researchers in nuclear engineering and physics from across the Middle East, Toukan said. He added that "it took three continuous years of work to get this accreditation".
The plan also includes the establishment of a nuclear engineering programme at the Jordan University of Science and Technology (JUST),which will host Jordan's first nuclear research reactor.
Omar M. Al-Jarrah, JUST vice president, told SciDev.Net that "35 per cent of the reactor's construction is achieved, [with the aim to] launch it in 2015".
"All the safety and security considerations were applied in the new reactor, according to IAEA standards", he added.
"The nuclear programme will provide huge support to Jordan's economic development, as it will transform Jordan — which currently imports 96 per cent of its energy at a cost of 20 per cent of its gross domestic product — into an energy exporter," said Toukan.
By. Hanan al Kiswany
I would have thought that, considering the fact that the Middle East is a tinderbox, any nuclear development work would be better spent on a reactor that cannot be used to make a nuclear weapon, or at least a weapon that does not send out a big 'I am here!' signal, after having killed those making, it the way a thorium bomb would.