French in Jordan nuclear bid

The French atomic energy company Areva hopes to seal a major contract in Jordan after losing out on a deal to sell its technology to Abu Dhabi last year.

An Areva-constructed nuclear power plant at Civaux, France. Areva hopes to seal a major contract in the kingdom.
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AMMAN // The French atomic energy company Areva hopes to seal a major contract in Jordan, the next Arab state likely to build nuclear reactors, after losing out on a deal to sell its technology to Abu Dhabi last year. Areva has teamed up with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Japan to offer a smaller, cheaper reactor design in an effort to stave off competition from a number of rivals, including a group of Korean companies that succeeded in the UAE.

Areva is already involved in a partnership with the Jordanian government to explore and develop uranium reserves in the centre of the country, but is hoping to expand that co-operation to joint ownership and operation of at least one reactor of capacity of 1,000 megawatts (mw), said Henri Zaccai, an Areva vice president. "France and Japan are committed to support Jordan in its pursuit of nuclear [power]," Mr Zaccai told a nuclear conference in Amman. "Areva - is able to provide the security of supply for the front end. For the back end we are in a position to offer a very strong solution, which is the treatment of waste."

In Jordan, Areva is offering the ATMEA, a joint design with Mitsubishi that it launched in 2007 to sell to smaller markets. For Abu Dhabi, Areva offered to build an Evolutionary Power Reactor, its flagship design with capacity of 1,600mw that it has sold in Finland, France and China. But a 1,400mw Korean design ultimately won, helped by a price tag that was more than 30 per cent lower, outside estimates show.

Mr Zaccai declined to elaborate on the firm's strategy in Jordan and how it differed from the approach in Abu Dhabi, but experts at the conference said the ATMEA made more sense for the smaller Jordanian electricity market. Jordan intends to build only two reactors in the next 15 years, compared with Abu Dhabi's order for four larger units by 2020. Korea Electric Power Corporation (KEPCO) has also offered a smaller and older design with capacity of 1,000mw, reports in the trade press say. The Jordan Atomic Energy Commission, the government body charged with choosing the country's foreign partner, will narrow the field of candidates to two by the middle of next month and make a final decision by the end of the year, said Dr Kamal Araj, the vice chairman of the commission.

The commission's choice between the two firms will be determined both by technology and the partner's capability to invest, co-own and help operate the reactors, Dr Araj said. KEPCO's win has overshadowed all discussions of nuclear business deals across the region, and the firm has said it is confident it will win additional orders in the Middle East. Khaled Toukan, the chairman of the commission, said KEPCO's contract with Abu Dhabi would offer a cost benchmark for Jordan's own programme.

But Areva's existing uranium mining partnership with the government could give it an advantage, as it could offer the Jordanians a complete, integrated process to take uranium ore from the country and enrich it into fuel for the reactors, and then take the reactor waste for processing, Mr Zaccai said. Dr Araj said on Monday that revenues from uranium would probably be included in the financing of the reactor.