Activists call for open nuclear debate
By Taylor Luck AMMAN - Activists and environmentalists on Saturday called for an open debate on the country's atomic energy programme, voicing concern over the feasibility of Amman's nuclear drive. At a protest in front of the Prime Ministry yesterday, some two dozen environmentalists demanded a dialogue over a project they say may have unforeseen costs for future generations of Jordanians. Participants criticised Prime Minister Awn Khasawneh for reaffirming Amman's commitment to nuclear energy in his policy statement at a time when governments and experts are raising questions over the safety, reliability and cost of atomic energy across the world. Activists noted that during the marathon debate sessions over the government's policy statement last week, MPs raised several concerns over the nuclear programme that went unanswered. "The government has not answered these very real concerns," said Ayoub Abu Dayyeh, president of the Society of Energy Saving and Sustainable Environment. Anti-nuclear activists, who claimed on Saturday that they were refused an audience with the premier for the fifth time in less than a month, blamed what they described as a "nuclear lobby" for reducing a public dialogue on the benefits and potential dangers of atomic energy to a one-sided conversation. "The [Jordan] Atomic Energy Commission [JAEC] is able to make statement after statement to the press about the benefits of nuclear energy and the other side is never given the chance to respond," said Basil Burgan, environmental activist and organiser of the anti-nuclear movement. "This is a very serious venture that will cost billions of dollars and threaten public health and the environment; yet the government still acts as if people's concerns do not matter," he charged. Protesters noted that authorities have yet to reassure the public over a project they claim threatens groundwater resources and public health. "For two years we have been hearing talk of economic feasibility and environmental impact studies and to this day we have yet to see any results indicating that nuclear power is a safe, viable option for Jordan," Abu-Dayyeh said. Activists claim that the studies, currently being conducted by Worley Parsons and Tractebel Engineering in cooperation with the Jordan Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the JAEC, will lack credibility due to the firms' "vested interests" in sustaining the nuclear programme. "In Jordan we have witnessed fraudulent elections, a fraudulent Parliament; it is not out of the realm of possibilities that at the end of the day we will receive fraudulent studies," Abu Dayyeh said on the sidelines of yesterday's protest. "The entire world is running away from nuclear energy: Germany, Italy, Sweden and Japan are not only suspending their nuclear programmes but laying legal framework to prevent the construction of future reactors," said Sufyan Tell, an environmental activist. "Why are we in Jordan running towards nuclear without dialogue?" Activists also charge that the financial burden of the nuclear programme, with reactor construction costs ranging between $5 and 10 billion and bills for maintenance and decommissioning expected to reach $8 billion, makes the programme "infeasible". "We have mega-project on top of mega-project and a rising national debt, where are we going to get this money from?" Tell remarked. Recommendations Also on Saturday, environmentalists and activists released the recommendations of the Kingdom's first conference on alternatives to nuclear power, calling for a series of measures to redirect authorities' focus to renewable energy. Topping the recommendations of the conference, which gathered over 100 environmental and energy experts in the capital last month, is the immediate suspension of the nuclear programme due to its potential adverse economic and health impacts. Participants also called for the dissolution of the JAEC and the Jordan-French Uranium Company, urging the government to replace the entities with a Renewable Energy Commission to boost the Kingdom's efforts to pursue solar and wind energy, which industry experts and officials alike admit have suffered several setbacks in the last two years. They also called for the immediate endorsement of amendments to the Renewable Energy Law to enhance investments in the sector and expediting work on wind farms in Kamsheh and Fujeij, slated to be the Kingdom's first large-scale renewable energy projects. The recommendations, a copy of which was sent to The Jordan Times, also urge authorities to amend the National Energy Strategy to eliminate the projected reliance on nuclear energy and raise the projected contribution of renewables to the country's energy mix, currently set at 10 per cent by 2020. With activists slated to hold a second conference on alternatives to nuclear power later this month and future protests on the horizon, environmentalists say their drive to pull the plug on the nuclear programme is far from over. "This is not the end of the conversation. This is only the beginning," Burgan said.