Venture at 10: Khaled Toukan

Khaled Toukan, Chairman of the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC)

Date of the Interview: May 2014

In May 2014, just as the debate around Jordan’s nuclear power program was reaching its zenith, Venture spoke to Khaled Toukan, chairman of the JAEC. He discussed the Kingdom’s ambitious nuclear program, part of which includes the commission of Jordan’s first research and training nuclear reactor.

From the Interview

What does Jordan’s nuclear program involve?

The nuclear power program consists of three projects; the most important part is human resource development. Of the 61 Jordanian students who were on scholarships to study and train in nuclear engineering in countries like South Korea, Russia, China, and France, 14 have already returned home and a further 19 are expected back by the end of the year. Some of them completed their Masters degree in nuclear energy and nuclear engineering, while others were specifically dispatched to train in operating and maintaining the reactor itself. Thirty more students will be dispatched in the near future. Research will take a completely different turn when we have the research and training reactor, which is already half way through assembly. It should be fully functional by mid-2016, and will include a nuclear active waste treatment facility for treating low and medium nuclear waste from hospitals, medical clinics, and the reactor itself.

What can you tell us about the other part of the nuclear program, the power station?

There’s a selected site, Qusayr Amra. We have already selected a preferred bidder, Rosatom, who conformed to our requirements, and now very soon we will start a detailed site characterization and an environmental impact study. The last part is expected to take two years, during which the commission will focus all their efforts on attempting to convince a skeptical public, government, and parliament of the project’s feasibility and importance. Safety wise it’s a safe reactor whose reference plant has already been licensed in Russia and Bulgaria, and constructed and operated in India. This is very important particularly for an emerging nuclear state, you cannot jump into a technology, which was not licensed or built before. We don’t have the experience. Rosatom also ticked the right boxes by offering to cover 49.9 percent of its construction cost, as well as offer to share the risk.

What else does the future hold for nuclear power in Jordan?

In terms of uranium, we were in the process of carrying out a very detailed re-exploration of central Jordan and things are looking up. With the rubberstamp of five international experts, Jordan will soon announce proven resources in the country for surficial uranium deposits. The quantities that we will get would be double what was reported using radiometric measurements.

The sector will require thousands of scientists, engineers, and technicians, as at least 1,000 will be trained to operate and run the power plant when it’s constructed. During construction, 12,000 people will be on site on a daily basis, and during operation there will be 2,000 to 3,000 in the plant every day. It will also require new roads and new electricity lines.

We are creating a completely new industry in Jordan, which never existed before. It’s difficult. We are preparing the ground for an industry that will last for decades to come; training people, building this science and technology at our universities, and we are digging for natural resources.

What’s happened since?

Jordan’s controversial nuclear program has advanced significantly since 2014, with the government signing a $10 billion agreement with Russia’s Rosatom to build the Kingdom’s first nuclear power plant. Furthermore, the country’s first research reactor based at the Jordan University for Science and Technology will be operational by September this year.

This is part eight of a 10-piece story. Articles in the series of Venture at 10 also include: