Amman is close to agreeing deals on nuclear co-operation with China and the US, with agreements due to be signed in July, according to the country’s nuclear chief.

The accords, which will be followed by four other intergovernmental agreements by the end of 2008, will pave the way for a nuclear programme involving investment of about $10bn by 2030.

The deals are part of Jordan’s plan to provide 30 per cent of the country’s needs using nuclear power by 2030. This will involve the construction of four nuclear reactors, worth an estimated $2-3bn each, and the development of the country’s uranium resources.

The agreements follow the signing of Jordan’s first nuclear co-operation deal, with France, on 31 May.

“We expect to sign [nuclear co-operation deals] with China and the US by July and very soon after with Russia, Canada and Korea,” says Khaled Toukan, chairman of the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC). “We will also sign a deal with the UK by the end of the year.”

The intergovernmental deal with France will be followed by a more detailed framework agreement, which is also expected to be signed in July.

The agreement will cover uranium mining, nuclear power technology, safety and security issues, and the development of human resources and administrative capacity.

Barbara Judge, chairman of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, will visit the JAEC at the end of June to develop the planned intergovernmental agreement between London and Amman.

The JAEC is now seeking expressions of interest in the main construction contract for the first nuclear reactor. The reactor is expected to have a capacity of 1,000MW, but proposals will be considered for facilities producing 700-1,000MW.

Proposals for twin reactors – two facilities on the same site – will also be considered.

“Twin reactors are more economical,” says Toukan. “But it is too early to say whether we will build the first two together. It depends on the site studies and the technical feasibility.”

Once completed, the first reactor is expected to supply 16 per cent of Jordan’s power needs.

Interested companies will go through a prequalification process before being invited to participate in the tender. The contract is expected to be awarded by the end of 2009. Construction is likely to take eight years, with the first reactor set to come on stream by 2017.

“All of the [intergovernmental] agreements have provision for the countries to provide reactors, train manpower and build human capacity,” says Toukan.

The nuclear programme also involves the development of uranium mines to provide feedstock for the planned nuclear reactors. The development of the mines, including feasibility studies and construction, is expected to take four years.

The main mining construction contract, worth an estimated $500m, is set to be signed by August. The contract will include the mining of uranium ore and the construction of refining faci-lities to produce yellowcake, an intermediate product that can then be enriched for use in power generation.

Six international companies have expressed interest in developing the mines. They include: UK-based mining company Rio Tinto; France’s Areva, which specialises in nuclear power; state-owned uranium mining and prospecting company China Nuclear International Uranium Corporation; and Canada’s Cameco Corporation, the world’s largest publicly traded uranium company.

A total of 16 firms were invited to express interest in the contract in the summer of 2007.

Site selection for the mine is also under way. Seven sites have been identified as having the potential to provide commercially viable amounts of uranium.

“We are looking at three sites close to the coast in Aqaba and others close to the [planned] Red Sea-Dead Sea canal,” says Toukan. “We are already doing a detailed study of one of the sites.”

The studies are expected to take 18-24 months.

The yellowcake enrichment process will take place overseas and will be included in the scope of the main reactor contract.

“At the moment, building a new uranium enrichment facility for one or two reactors does not make economic sense,” says Toukan.

“The company that builds the reactor will be responsible for exporting, enriching and re-importing to Jordan.”

Companies with the technology to carry out uranium enrichment include Areva, US Enrichment Corporation, GE, also of the US, and UK-based Urenco.

Jordan currently relies on increasingly expensive oil and gas imports to meet its power generation needs.

JAEC expects the country to require power generation capacity of 6,000-7,000 MW by 2020. “We might need as much as 8,000MW if the Red Sea-Dead Sea water project is completed and we start to develop water desalination facilities,” says Toukan.

Amman is in full compliance with International Atomic Energy Agency regulations on the development of nuclear energy. It is a signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and the additional NPT protocol.