The Media Line Staff
Jordan has opted for nuclear power as a solution to its energy woes. But politicians and local residents say they will oppose any government bid to build a nuclear reactor in the resource-poor kingdom.
Three international companies are bidding for a government contract to construct a 1,000-megawatt Generation III reactor by the end of the decade near the city of Mafraq, 40 kilometres (25 miles) northeast of the capital Amman. Jordan's Energy Ministry announced that the winner will be named in November.
Jordan currently imports over 95% of its energy, costing it one-fifth of the gross domestic product in 2010. Political upheavals in the Middle East have dramatically raised oil prises this year. It relies on Egyptian natural gas for 80% of its energy needs, but repeated attacks on a gas pipeline in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula have boosted prices and disrupted supplies.
So the government has decided to push forward with nuclear energy, claiming it is the only reliable, long-term solution for Jordan's energy concerns. But residents of Mafraq say the planned reactor will pollute their environment and endanger their health. Political forces in the kingdom have also rallied against nuclear power plants.
"We believe it is better to search for alternative sources of energy than to focus on nuclear power," Dr. Said Diab, Secretary General of the Jordanian Democratic Popular Union Party, an opposition group, told The Media Line. "The dangers of the nuclear reactor outweigh its advantages, so our party has decided to join the public campaign against it."
Diab said that many developed countries have decided to abandon nuclear energy due to the potential environmental danger it poses. Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan said Japan would "scale back" its dependence on nuclear energy in the coming years following the meltdown of the Fukushima power plant in March after it was hit by a massive tsunami. In the wake of the Japanese disaster, Germany announced it would close down all of its nuclear power plants by 2022 following widespread anti-nuclear demonstrations across the country.
The Mafraq residents have set up a coalition called Irhamouna, Arabic for "have mercy on us." It unites environmentalists, geologists and youth activists. Coalition coordinator Nidal Hassan told the Jordan Times that his group would launch a series of information sessions and demonstrations against the reactor in Mafraq and Amman following the month of Ramadan on Facebook.
"Our children are already sick from fumes. Do we need radiation too?" Mohammed Khawaldeh, a resident of the area, told the daily.
But Fatima A-Smadi, a media professor and columnist for the independent Jordanian daily Al-Arab Al-Yawm, said the objection to the power plant may have less to do with environmental reasons and more to do with public mistrust of a government perceived as corrupt.
"People doubt the honesty of the project's initiators," A-Smadi told The Media Line. "Many large-scale projects in Jordan have exposed great corruption with 100% government involvement."
The construction of Jordan's first casino was authorized in 2007, during the first term of current Jordanian Prime Minister Maarouf Al-Bakhit. The casino project was promptly cancelled, potentially exposing Jordan to billions of dollars in breach-of-contract penalties. But despite widespread allegations of government corruption, on Wednesday the Jordanian parliament cleared Al-Bakhit of any wrongdoing, putting the blame solely on former tourism minister Osama Dabbas.
"The clearing of Al-Bakhit in the casino affair causes Jordanians to believe the government is not fighting corruption," A-Smadi said.
Zeena Hakim, a 21-year-old student from Amman is volunteering in Greenpeace's first public campaign in Jordan against the nuclear reactor. Greenpeace will join Irhamouna activists in Mafraq next Tuesday to protest against the reactor.
"We oppose all nuclear programs," Hakim told The Media Line. "It causes danger to the environment, the water, and there is so much waste involved."
Wearing gas masks and drumming on yellow nuclear waste barrels Hakim and her friends protested in Amman on July 28. Their signs read: "Jordan first, our health first - no to nuclear!"
"The solution is energy conservation and efficiency," Hakim said. "Jordan has above average levels of renewable energy sources like solar and wind power."
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