AMMAN — Jordan is set to break ground on a nuclear research reactor this December in what energy officials are describing as a “milestone” in the country’s atomic energy programme.

A consortium comprising the Korean Atomic Energy Research Institute and Daewoo is scheduled to begin construction on a 5-megawatt nuclear research reactor — the Kingdom’s first — in Ramtha at the end of the year, according to the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC).

To be built at the Jordan University of Science and Technology, the reactor will serve as a training ground for nuclear engineers and physicists who will man the country’s nuclear programme in the future, JAEC Vice Chairman Kamal Araj said during an address at a regional nuclear conference in Amman on Tuesday.

Plans for the nuclear research reactor have come under criticism in recent months, with parliamentarians accusing the commission of “overpaying” for the project and former JAEC employees calling into question the site’s proximity to major population centres.

The JAEC, in response, has pointed out that $70 million of the $130 million reactor is being supported by a soft loan and stressed that the reactor safety zone falls within International Atomic Energy Agency guidelines.

The Jordan Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Kingdom’s atomic energy watchdog, is in the process of licensing the reactor, which the JAEC expects to be online by 2016.

The commission has given priority to training Jordanian engineering students in order to have a skilled workforce in place ahead of the construction of the country’s first nuclear power plant, which is expected to come online by 2020.

Jordan’s nuclear programme calls for the construction of up to four 1,000-megawatt nuclear reactors to wean the country off energy imports within the next two decades.