CHAIN REACTION

Jordan 2019 | ENERGY | INTERVIEW

In addition to building reactors, JAEC is also focusing on training a new generation of Jordanians to lead atomic energy developments.

Dr. Khaled Toukan
BIOGRAPHY
Dr. Khaled Toukan is among the most important academic and scientific figures in Jordan. He obtained his BE in electrical engineering from the American University of Beirut, his MSc in nuclear engineering from the University of Michigan, and his PhD in nuclear engineering from MIT. Dr. Toukan was also appointed President of Al-Balqa Applied University, Minister of Education, Minister of Higher Education, and Minister of Energy. He has also served as the Chair of the Board of Trustees of the University of Jordan. He is currently Chairman of JAEC and Director of the Synchrotron-light for Experimental Science and Applications in the Middle East (SESAME) Center. He has served as a member of IAEA’s SAGNE Advisory Group since 2016.

What are the most recent updates from the first part of Jordan's nuclear program, the power plant and reactor?

We are now pursuing two tracks. One is a large reactor for 1,000MW, which is expected to be operational in 2030 or beyond. Jordan has signed several contracts for energy production, including the supply of gas and renewable energy. As such, excess supply is expected in the coming decade. The National Electric Power Company (NEPCO) will have excess supply, unless it is able to export energy to neighboring countries. NEPCO has also signed contracts with Noble Energy and Egyptian Gas (EGAS) for natural gas and others for solar and wind energy. This is why we are postponing the large reactor until 2030 at the earliest. However, we are now working on a different track, the small modular reactor (SMR), currently in the assessment phase, which is being finalized looking at the design and safety aspects, cost and financing, and strategic partnerships. We expect the small reactors to fill small slots and gaps in energy demand in 2027, with 200-400MW of electricity. We are actively pursuing SMR. However, this all depends on the dynamics of Jordan's energy profile and availability of an export market. The Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources (MEMR) is evaluating export markets. However, most of our neighbors are energy rich, and our ability to export depends on the geopolitical environment. Much of what we are doing depends on Syria and Lebanon, and we have some years to go before it will become a reality.

In gearing up for these developments, how would you characterize human resource availability in Jordan?

Our engineering schools are recognized worldwide, this includes our nuclear engineering department at Jordan University of Science and Technology. JAEC was keen on ensuring that qualified engineers and technical staff capable of not only sustaining our peaceful energy program in all its facets, but also to pursue its development are available. Jordan Research and Training Reactor (JRTR), inaugurated in 2016, is one of our different platforms to increase our capabilities and capacities to support peaceful utilization of nuclear energy. In December 2017, we conducted a recommissioning with Jordanian staff following a handover from the South Korean staff. We wanted to be sure our staff was ready and had the confidence to operate the reactors safely and effectively. Currently, we have 120 Jordanian staff comprised of technicians, engineers, and scientists at the PhD level. They manage, maintain, test, and operate the reactor and all its systems. Recently, we started the first use of the reactor to produce radioisotopes for medicine, and we have active participation from the Royal Medical Services and well over 10 centers within Jordan that now rely on JRTR for previously imported isotopes. We have also made the reactor available for training purposes for nuclear engineering students at Jordan University of Science and Technology since April 2018. The program will continue in 2019, and we expect to receive the first group of Emirati students from the nuclear engineering department of Khalifa University in the UAE. It is a multipurpose reactor with a capacity of producing nuclear isotopes for medical, industrial, agricultural, and research in addition to projecting it as a regional hub to train engineers not only from Jordan, but also our neighboring countries. In addition to that, we have sent 150 students on scholarships to France, China, the US, Russia, and South Korea. More than 100 of them returned after their training, while some stayed to continue their master's degrees or doctorates. Around 10 students from JRTR's staff are currently pursuing their doctorates on scholarships from top schools in the US, and they will come back to work in Jordan. We are focusing on this program extensively, since it is an important success tool for its sustainability and key to operating a safe, stable, and secure nuclear program, specifically in Jordan and the region.