AMMAN — Jordan has entered negotiations with French and Russian firms for the construction of the country’s first nuclear reactor, an energy official announced on Sunday.

Amman is going ahead with parallel talks with Russian state-owned Atomstroy export and a consortium comprising the French firm AREVA and Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for the construction of up to two 1,100-megawatt reactors, according to Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) Chairman Khaled Toukan.

The JAEC was originally slated to select the final preferred vendor this month, but moved to extend the process due to the “competitiveness” of the two bids.

“We had wanted to settle on the final vendor, but due to the attractiveness of both bids, we decided to extend the review of both,” Toukan told The Jordan Times.

The JAEC, he said, has been unable to decide between the two options due to the similar safety features of the two Generation III technologies, technology transfer opportunities, proposed coolant solutions and ability to adapt to the country’s preferred site near Mafraq, some 40 kilometres northeast of the capital.

According to Toukan, the JAEC will enter a nine-month negotiation period with the two firms before selecting the final vendor based on its financial offer and quoted electricity rates.

Last year, the JAEC narrowed a list of potential vendors to three shortlisted firms: Atomstroy export, the French-Japanese consortium and Canada’s AECL.

AREVA is also currently carrying out exploration on uranium reserves in the central region — seen as a potential fuel source for the country’s nuclear programme — with initial results indicating the presence of up to 20,000 metric tonnes.

Should extraction prove feasible, the firm is scheduled to commence uranium mining as early as 2015.

Energy officials have identified nuclear power as key to weaning the country off energy imports, which cost the Kingdom some one-fifth of its gross domestic product annually.

Environmentalists and other activists oppose Jordan’s nuclear drive, claiming that potential financial, environmental and health costs outweigh the need to secure the country’s energy independence.