(MENAFN - Jordan Times) The government will today invite bids for international consulting firms to assist in the tender process for the Kingdom's first nuclear reactor, one of many developments in the Kingdom's rapidly progressing nuclear programme.
The Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) will submit a request for proposals for an international consultant for the preconstruction phase of the plant, entailing feasibility studies, technology selection, fuel cycle, waste management in addition to safety procedures, JAEC Chairman Khaled Toukan told The Jordan Times in a recent interview.
The consulting firm will also aid in preparing and examining bid documents for the construction of the country's first nuclear power plant all the way through the final contract, according to the commission.
The winning bidder will also pave the way for the establishment of a nuclear electricity utility company operated jointly by the government and an international nuclear operator.
Under the scheme, the government and the operator will own a total share of 50 per cent in the utility, he said, with the other 50 per cent open to private ownership, private companies, social pension funds and international investment firms.
"We want to have an international nuclear operator on board, because it will minimise risk and give more confidence to financing houses and governments," Toukan said, adding that partnership with a certified nuclear operator must come in parcel with any potential agreement for building the reactor.
"This is one of the requirements; we need an international nuclear operator from the country that builds the reactor to be with us on board," he said, adding that the nuclear commission will work mainly on the Public Private Partnership model in constructing and running the plant.
The utility will be established prior to the construction phase, he said, as the consulting firm will determine the ratio of various shareholders.
Tender documents for the plant's construction will be announced by the utility company itself, which will then be the owner and operator of the plant.
Last week, the commission signed a memorandum of understanding with British-Australian firm Rio Tinto, the largest mining company in the world, for reconnaissance and prospecting work in Rweished in the northeast, Wadi Sahra Abyad in the southeast and Wadi Bahiyya in the Mafraq area.
The firm will soon conduct initial phases of grid studies, sample collecting to determine prospects for future exploration of uranium, in addition to other metals such as podioum and zirconium, Toukan said.
After 18 months, if results are "promising", the government will move to negotiate an exploration agreement leading to the establishment of a joint company jointly owned by Rio Tinto and the commission, Toukan noted.
Meanwhile for the last three months, the JAEC and Sino Uranium have been taking Gama measurements in preparation for mining measurements in Mafraq and Wadi Bahiyya, and have designated nine-square-kilometre sample plots to determine the areas' uranium potentials.
Exploration efforts by the JAEC and France's AREVA, through the Jordanian French Uranium Mining Company, are well under way in the central regions, he said, which is believed to be home to a majority of the Kingdom's 130,000 tonnes of uranium, most of which is found within 1.5 metres below surface level and suitable for extraction.
Following prospective work, the company will focus on the design and construction of the Kingdom's first uranium mine and a plant for extraction and processing, with the commission currently finalising a mining agreement with AREVA that is expected to be signed this summer.
"Four years from January 2009 they should be in production," Toukan said.
Currently, eight interested international consulting firms are working with the commission in site study and characterisation work for the location of the nuclear power plant.
In April, the commission will select one of the firms, from the US, Europe, Canada, Russia and South Korea, to carry out the studies, allowing the commission to announce an international tender for the plant's construction by the first quarter of 2011.
Toukan noted that after consultation with 11 national agencies including the Ministry of Environment, NGOs and environmental groups, the commission has zeroed in on its final choice for the location of the country's first nuclear reactor: A site on the south beach of the Gulf of Aqaba, outside the Aqaba Special Economic Zone and nine kilometres inland.
"This plant will be located closer to the outer edge, on the peripheries of the desert. It will be away from the sea and we are going to desalinate water from the sea and transfer it to the plant," he said, adding that considerations have been made to ensure negligible environmental impact.
"We are not going to go for direct cooling so that there is a minimum environmental impact," Toukan said, adding that the location will have the potential to host 4-6 nuclear power plants.
Due to economies of scale and in order to take advantage of tools and manpower in the area, Toukan has previously said construction of the second plant could be expected within two to three years after the groundbreaking of the first.