Jordan Downsizes its Nuclear Energy Ambitions to SMRs

  • small reactorsJordan to replace a deal with Rosatom for two full size PWRs with one with South Korea for its SMART SMR design
  • Jordan cites the financial burden of funding $10 billion for the two 1000 MW Rosatom VVERs

Jordan has made it official saying in an statement on June 26th from the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) that it will not proceed with plans, inked in 2015, to partner with Rosatom to build two 1000 MW VVER type nuclear reactors which came with a $10 billion price tag.

According to the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC), the reason for the decision is that Rosatom asked for 50% private equity funding for the project. The agency said the request was an “unfavorable” financial condition and, apparently, also a deal killer. Not mentioned in the announcement was the question of where the water for the steam system would come from in the desert kingdom.

There was no special financing or discount on price for the twin reactors which came in at an “overnight price” of $5,000/Kw which is in line with current global pricing for units of this size.

“The Russians requested obtaining loans from commercial banks, which would have increased the cost of the project and the prices of generated electricity. The Jordanian government rejected the proposal,” the statement said.

Commercial loans would have made the prices of electricity generated by the proposed nuclear station uncompetitive, JAEC said.

The chairman of the JAEC, Dr. Khaled Toukan, told the news conference that the commission has abandoned the construction of a large plant and will proceed with plans to  build small reactors. He added that small reactors need less funding and are more likely to bring international investors to the table than large stations.

Focus Shifts to South Korean SMART SMR

“Jordan is now focusing on small modular reactors because the large reactors place financial burden on the Kingdom and in light of the current fiscal conditions we believe it is best to focus on smaller reactors,” Toukan told The Jordan Times.

JAEC Chairman Toukan said that Jordan is planning to focus on small modular nuclear reactors and indicated an interest on South Korea’s 100 MW SMART reactor.

He said feasibility studies are being conducted jointly by the JAEC, the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy of Saudi Arabia and the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute to build two nuclear reactors in Jordan at a total capacity of 220 megawatts.

The two system-integrated modular advanced reactors (SMART) will cost around $800 million, Toukan noted, adding that the project will be financed by the three sides involved and that Jordan has received pledges of support for the reactors.

Other SMR Deals?

Jordan has also been in talks for the past year with at least three different vendors of LWR and advanced small modular reactors. The talks include UK Rolls Royce for a to be named LWR type SMR, US based X-Energy which has a new generation of South Africa’s PBMR “pebble bed” high temperature gas cooled reactor (HTGR), and  China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC) which has has an HTGR design.

In November 2017, Rolls-Royce signed a memorandum of understanding with JAEC to carry out a technical feasibility study for the construction of a Rolls-Royce SMR in Jordan. A similar agreement was also signed in November 2017 with X-Energy for electricity, water desalination and other thermal applications.

Toukan noted that the Commission is currently negotiating with China to build the same reactor that China is currently constructing in Shandong province. He added that no contract will be signed with CNNC before the actual startup of the Chinese reactor and operating it in revenue service on the grid for at least two years.

The Jordan Times reported separately that work on selecting a site for an SMR was proceeding in the Qusayer region near Azraq about 60km east of Amman. The paper reports that studies were conducted on the site by Belgium’s Tractebel, Korea Electric Power Corporation and Worley Parsons, with findings showing the suitability of the location for the facilities.

Russians Downshift as Well

The Russians, while obvious not happy with Jordan’s decision, offered to shift gears and seek the business with an as yet unanounced SMR deisgn of their own.

Evgeny Pakermanov, president of JSC Rusatom Overseas said, “The SMR technologies will certainly become one of our top priorities on the way to develop the world energy market”, he said in a statement emailed to the Jordan Times.

The cancellation of the project is the latest setback in Rosatom’s export strategy. Earlier this year private investors pulled out of a project in Turkey to build four 1200 MW VVER.  Rosatom has struggled for several years to attract investors, but Turkish construction firms, which would also build the plants, have backed out of taking an equity position in them. Their reason appears to be that the two parties were unable to agree on the rate electricity would be charged for to customers.

Last year Vietnam pulled out of a deal to acquire four 1000 MW VVER on the grounds that the cost was prohibitive due to Rosatom’s terms for equity investments. Also, Vietnam may have had a second reason, and that it could not develop the capabilities to manage the regulatory role for safety and oversight of construction and operation of the reactors.

Fuel for Reactors?

On uranium reserves in Jordan, Toukan said the Kingdom’s central region is home to 40,000 metric tonnes of uranium, which has enough yellow cake to supply Jordan’s nuclear programme for more than 100 years. He added that “the volume is expected to increase as promising excavations are under way in several areas.”

“We expect to start producing tens of kilos of yellow cake by the end of this year,” said Toukan.

His claims may require some clarification. A few years ago both Rio Tinto and Areva conducted prospecting studies of the deposits and determined they were not economically feasible for bring into production. Jordan had at one time offered to swap uranium for the cost of new nuclear reactors. The record low global price of yellowcake makes that concept unrealistic for the time being.

In any case, where ever the uranium comes from, it will have to be enriched and  fabricated into fuel elements by facilities in other countries that already have these capabilities.

UAE’s First Nuclear Reactor Start-up Delayed Again

(Reuters) The start-up of the  first nuclear reactor in the United Arab Emirates has been delayed and should start operations between the end of 2019 and early 2020, the plant’s operator said in a statement to the wire service.

“The results of Nawah’s review forecast that the loading of nuclear fuel assemblies required to commence nuclear operations at Barakah Unit 1 will occur between the end of 2019 and early 2020,” it said in the statement.

Nawah Energy Company, the operator of the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant in the Al-Dhafra Region of Abu Dhabi, said it “has completed a comprehensive operational readiness review” for an updated start-up schedule for the reactor.

The IAEA participated in the operational readiness reviews (ORR) which takes place prior to fuel loading. The agency said, it had issued a total of ten recommendations and seven suggestions, as well as identifying three key observations.

These findings included the need for ENEC and Nawah to reach operational readiness before the fuel load of the first unit. The IAEA also said the UAE needs to work towards its 2016 policy on the long-term management and disposal of spent nuclear and radioactive waste. The World Nuclear News posted a report on all of the areas covered in the ORR.

A reactor operator does not load fuel in a new reactor nor seek first criticality until all ORR issues are resolved to the satisfaction of safety agencies.

“The resulting projection for the start-up of Unit 1 operations reflects the time required for the plant’s nuclear operators to complete operational readiness activities and to obtain necessary regulatory approvals,” Nawah said.

Reuters reported last March that the start-up had been pushed back to 2019 due to training delays. These delays were caused in part due to a reactor in South Korea not being available to train new staff.  The reactor had been taken out of service due to the discovery of counterfeit cables supplied by South Korean firms and installed at the power station.  The cables had to be pulled out and replaced before the training program could take place.

The first of four reactors being built by Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) in the UAE is part of the Barakah power plant project that was originally scheduled to open last year. Barakah One is a joint venture between Emirates Nuclear Energy Corporation (ENEC) and KEPCO.

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