Pro-environment activists protesting on the 4th Circle on May 31, 2011, held a sign stating “French Areva pollutes Jordan with uranium mining, owns our deserts and will build the reactors”.
The sign clearly expressed anger. It was an alarm bell against Areva, a company that signed an excavation agreement with Jordan Atomic Energy Commission on September 29, 2008. Green activists were surprised to see JAEC sign a mining agreement with Areva in February 2010, before producing a feasibility study.
Rumours in Jordan circulated that Areva was in financial trouble and needed projects to save it. The company lost 70 per cent of its share value since 2007 and does not have a future in Europe where 13 countries voted against continuing or introducing nuclear power generation. The last was Italy, in June 2011, with a 94 per cent majority people against nuclear power. (Fukushima was a big blow to the nuclear power industry.)
Areva is looking for new business. On July 25, 2007, AREVA-Niger CEO Dominique Pin was expelled from Niger (he was in Paris at the time) on charges of supporting the Tuareg rebellion. The Tuareg insisted on the Niger government to sign the mining agreement with Areva. They claimed it would be a work opportunity for their men, although everyone knew that bedouins do not work in mines.
In April 2011, “31 company sites of the Areva NP, joint venture as well as private residences were raided in Germany and the Czech Republic” for accusations of bribes (http://www.finanznachrichten.de/nachrichten-2011-04/19875752-german-prosecutors-raid-areva-np-in-bribery-probe-020.htm). Areva was penalised a 52 million euros fine by the EU for “cartel practices”, for trying to raise the price of uranium. Its website released very harsh numbers for 2011; it is trying, at this point, to survive by all means.
Now that Europe is not building new nuclear power plants (NPP), the Third World could be the saviour. In Jordan, some green activists believed as early as 2008 that Areva would be granted not only the yellow cake of Jordan, but the whole cake of the nuclear project. This started as early as August 2008, when it was reported that “the government intended to sign up for an Areva reactor, and subsequent discussions pointed to an 1,100 MW unit, presumably from Atmea1”(http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/nuclear_power_in_Jordan_inf138.html ).
Atmea1 is a new model of an NPP designed for developing countries, which was not built anywhere yet, nor has it been certified in France or anywhere else. In other words, a guinea pig model.
Many asked why the Chinese SinoU and the Australian Rio Tinto withdrew very early from the exploration agreements, and the French Areva stayed on, when all reports were indicating that the Jordanian uranium is of very poor quality and not feasible to mine. Some believed that SinoU and Rio Tinto declared outright that they were not interested in Jordan, since they only mine uranium and do not build NPPs like Areva. So it seems the cake is in the NPPs.
The Jordanian media has broadly supported the decision to award French Areva since 2007.
The show of an international bid and the exclusion of the Koreans (who won all contracts in UAE) were not justified by JAEC. Then followed the Canadian exclusion without any clear reason. Left now are Areva and RosAtom of Russia.
Will JAEC award the project to Areva, as per the breaking news of 2008 about the intention to purchase the non-certified Atmea1?
One has to follow the sequence of reports to figure out if indeed JAEC released an international bid for contracting the first NPP. On February 19, 2009, France granted Jordan National Electricity Co. half a million euros to conduct a study on connecting an NPP of 1,000 MW to the Jordanian grid (Al Rai, February 19, 2009). One year later, France signed a contract with JAEC to build a polytechnic university specialised in nuclear energy (Al Rai, January 21, 2010).
In February 2010, JAEC decides to award French Areva an agreement to mine uranium without producing a feasibility study for the exploration agreement signed two years earlier. Strangely, the preamble to the mining agreement also showed clear preference for Areva in future nuclear developments when it “insisted on French Areva to participate in those tenders released in Jordan for building nuclear power plants”, and “the specifications of the bids be connected to the technology falling within the line of Areva products”.
Then, JAEC announced it received four international offers (French, Russian, Canadian and Korean) for NPP (Al Rai, April 1, 2010). Within six weeks, JAEC decided that the Korean NPP was not suitable and dropped it; the Koreans’ were the most suitable, and cheapest, bids for the UAE (Al Rai May 13, 2010).
As if Areva had already been awarded the NPP contract, its Security and Protection Manager Thierry Urbano signed a “protection” agreement with the Jordan Armed Forces, even though the bids were still under study (Al Rai July 28, 2010).
On December 2010, the French Atomic Energy Commission sent its experts to evaluate the procedures of the Sub-Critical Assembly at JUST, which is a main part of the Jordanian nuclear project, and produced a very tough report, downgrading Jordanian nuclear safety, quality, regulatory and management capability, in the hope that the JAEC will get its act together.
In 2011, the Canadian offer for NPP was also dropped without any clear reason (Al Rai April 30, 2012). In December 2011, Areva and JAEC invited eight members of Parliament and six Mafraq academics on a “Tour de France”, visiting Areva’s NPPs, a practice that is never accepted in Jordan when an international tender is still under study. It is called favouritism.
After World News recently announced that Russia’s RossAtom and French Areva were international allies, questions are raised on whether the Russians will withdraw so that French Areva can be announced the winner of the “fair and transparent” bidding system for contracting for the first Jordanian nuclear power plants (source http://rbth.ru/articles/2012/07/19/rosatom_areva_might_cooperate_in_servicing_npp_snf_fast_reactors_16490.html ).
The writer is president of the Jordanian Friends of Environment. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.