Monday, September 04, 2006

Why Jordan needs nuclear energy (part II)

Part I here.

Various options have been proposed as alternative energy sources in Jordan. These include solar, wind, oil shale and the Red-Dead canal. Here is some information pertaining to these choices.

Solar Energy: While much research has been done on solar energy, this resource still suffers from high instillation costs. While the energy itself is free, the cost of installation of photovoltaic cells is still prohibitively high. It is currently estimated that solar energy costs upwards of 21 US cents per Kilowatt hour. The potential for substantial drops in costs is questionable, and little is being done in terms of commercial investment in this resource.

Wind Energy: Large scale wind farms have been constructed in Holland, and some pilot projects in Jordan have been carried out. This study estimates that installed capacity of about 50 MW per year is feasible in the two potential areas in Jordan. European estimates for the cost of wind energy, including cost and maintenance, differ according to wind regime. The most optimistic cost range is from 6.4 to 7.7 US cents per Kilowatt hour. While the economics of wind energy are promising, the potential amount of electricity that can be generated in Jordan is modest.

Oil Shale: I have written about this in the past, and many people are excited about the possibilities of this resource. Two economic issues limit the possibility of using these resources for electricity. The first is that extraction of liquid petroleum from the rock is still too expensive. Second, burning extract from the shale would be a waste of a valuable resource that would be better utilized in vehicles rather than in electric generation. Environmental issues related to the volume of water required and the nature of the waste products from oil extraction also arise.

The Red-Dead Canal: The potential elevation difference between open seas and the Dead Sea (400 meters) is being considered as a source of hydroelectric power. While some aspects of the project are desirable (restoring the level of the Dead Sea), some of the numbers associated with the project simply don’t make sense.

The flow of 1600 million cubic meters of water is expected to generate a measly 100 MWe, with an annual production of 876 GWh. This is supposed to be used for desalination of the water to produce freshwater. The best numbers concerning desalination of seawater using reverse osmosis suggest a need for over 5 KWh per cubic meter. Thus, if what the proponents say is true, then the desalination of 850 million cubic meters of water will require at least 4250 GWh per year. This will require an additional installed capacity of 400 MWe. Pumping the water from the Dead Sea to Amman (a vertical elevation of 1300 meters from the Dead Sea) will probably require another 150 MWe of installed capacity, meaning that running the system as described by the proponents will require installing of at least 550 MWe capacity above the 100 MWe that will be generated by the flow of the water. Thus, the Red Dead canal system will be a net drain on the electrical system of the country.

Nuclear Energy: The economics of nuclear energy are compelling, as described here. While the startup costs are high (about 1500 $ per KW, as opposed to between 500-1000 for gas and 1000-1500 for wind), this is made up for in low fuel costs. Therefore, a 1000 MWe nuclear plant will cost 1.5 billion dollars, as opposed to the Red Sea-Dead Sea canal project, which will cost 5 billion dollars and generate a tenth of the electricity.

Part of the attractiveness of nuclear energy is that it is insensitive to fuel rises, as most of the cost is in the building of the plant, with only 8% of the cost being from the consumption of fuel. In total, the cost of generating nuclear electricity ranges from 2.3 US Cents in the Czech Republic to 4.8 US cents in Japan (an outlier in terms of cost, if you check the table). This cost includes construction, maintenance, fuel, management of waste and decommissioning. By any economic standard, it would be difficult to imagine generating significant amounts of energy at such a low cost.

An additional bonus to this is that coupling of a nuclear power generator with a desalination plant allows for the production of significant volumes of low cost water. This IAEA document suggests that a 900 MWe power plant on the Red Sea is capable of producing half a million cubic meters of water per day at a cost of between 50-60 cents per cubic meter. This alone is an important incentive.

Part III here.



At 6:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is as ridiculous a solution as I can ever think of. You tend to treat Jordan as a superpower - not even Iran is finding easy to make a breakthrough in Nuclear energy, Egypt couldn't either. You want Jordan to? Let's be reasonable now, shall we?

Oil-shale is a much, much, much more reasonable and better solution.

At 7:08 PM, Blogger KeKo said...

II think anon misses the point! You do not need breakthroughs in Nuclear Science to use nuclear energy unless you want to do it all on your own back which is not the suggestion here!

However the facts you present have all been known for some time and they are known to all in the Jordanian establishment, however we still do not have nuclear energy! And sadly we will not any time soon. The will is not their.

Rather than go into why and give my self a headache, I’ll limit myself to saying that I am pro nuclear energy and wish the lack of will was not the case!

At 2:01 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That is absolutely true Keko; Jordan cannot start a nuclear program from scratch, but can do so with the help of foreign sponsors like Israel did in the last century.

Iran actually faced challenges because it had to keep its nuclear program in the dark. I don't believe there is any reason why Jordan should make that mistake.

There should be absolutely no reason for Jordan not to demand sponsorship for a nuclear powerplant.

I think there is a fundamental tactic in politics that the average Arab person lacks the understanding of, and that is that even if you think a demand that you have will not be met, you still have to make it and ask for what you want. Because if you don't, then in the future when you do it's going to be treated as a "new demand" that you will have to give something significant in return for. Whereas if you keep making it, the longer they don't deliver it, the easier it's gonna be for you in the future when someone makes a new demand from you to say "well, we've been asking for this for years, and now you want this."

I think Jordan should seek international sponsorship of a peaceful small nuclear program that would provide energy to the country. And even if such demand is immediately dismissed, I believe it must always be on the list of items that Jordan wants to talk about in any meeting with sponsors from around the world.

At 8:30 AM, Blogger Habchawi said...

Based on this, we are better off investing our capital in dual-effect (water/electricity) nuclear technology rather than the Red to Dead canal. Actually, we will save some money and the enormous criticism against the project. And considering that Jordan lacks any viable energy sources combined with severe water shortage in the region. It seems to me that Jordan has a very strong position, if not the strongest in the region, in demanding sponsorship for this technology.

At 8:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


"breakthroughs in Nuclear Science"

clearly you are the one that miss the point, I was speaking of a political breakthrough

At 9:03 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Anon: There are no barriers to Jordan buying a nuclear reactor. This is something people assume, without any basis.

Keko: Welcome to my blog. We totally agree.

Hamzeh: I agree. We should push, and see how things go from there.

Habchawi: We agree.

At 5:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmmm Khalaf, you make some compelling points in favor of nuclear energy, but I have to say that I hate the idea of it. In the US, we have it, but it is considered problematic. I used to live in New Orleans, and there is a large nuclear energy plant in Taff, Louisiana nearby. I knew a guy who was a member of an elite team of welders who worked on some of the most sensitive parts of the project. He told me that he was concerned because most of the other guys on the team and also other workers came to work stoned. Frankly, I don't want workers high on some kind of illegal drugs working on a nuclear power plant. When I was a social worker in a mental health facility, I had a really crazy patient who worked in the Taff facility. He was very unstable. Great. Nutters working in a nuclear facility. It seems too easy for something drastic to go wrong. Good grief. I think that we all have to start conserving energy and stop burning fossil fuels to the degree that it is being used now. Global warming. Not a good thing. I just don't like nuclear energy or nuclear anything. I hope that other solutions will be found. Best regards from Texas, lynne

At 7:03 PM, Blogger Khalaf said...

Lynn: The fact that nuclear reactors can run without incident while the employees are stoned seems to attest to their inherent safety, don't you think? Human mistakes can lead to plane crashes, sinking ships and a host of other disasters. Modern life is associated with certain risks, and the records show that the risks from nuclear power are much lower than any other form of energy.

Conservation of fossil fuel will only prolong the use of this resource. There is a finite volume of oil, and eventually we will run out.


At 3:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Khalad, you may be right. Your rebuttal to my argument would be very convincing, but I suffer from blind prejudice of nuclear anything. Well-reasoned, thoughtful post though, and it has me thinking of ways to conserve energy here. I need to simplify my lifestyle. This global warming situation could be very bad. People aren't willing to change much until they are forced to do so. Not in the US, at least. Lynne

At 7:08 AM, Blogger Khalaf said...

I understand, and I realize that this is a common sentiment. I know most people would prefer that solar or wind energy could evolve fast enough to take nuclear off the table. Maybe it will, and only time will tell. In Jordan, I don't think that we have the time.

At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Khalaf, Yes, I acknowledge that I am just afraid of nuclear energy, but perhaps unreasonably so. I'd like to know more about Jordan (including the energy topic, of course), and will make time to research over the weekend (I'm a teacher, and pretty busy during the week with the students). Also, I have signed up for an Arabic language course at the University of Texas here in Austin. I'm interested in finding out ways that countries can support each other for the benefit of the people in each country. My feelings are that we from various countries have more in common and more that connects us than differences. I think that if we focus on those common connections and needs, perhaps it would lead to resolving any differences:) lynne

At 12:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't it nice to be able to twist people's perception by the sources you cite? Khalaf, had you not chosen to cite the nuclear lobby in your post on the economics of nuclear energy (UIC and the likes), but rather critics of the nuclear option (and, surprise, these guys have different figures: see e.g. Nuclear Information and Research Center or
the Rocky Mountain Institute, or even Wikipedia if you had tried to be balanced), I guess the discussion would have gone into a different direction.
A nuclear power plant in Jordan, this is a hell of a scenario, and just mentioned by the king as a political argument. In this region, with no stability and noone equipped to run such a machine, Jordan would be bound for disaster. Plus, imagine all the Mafraq tribes protesting against their governorate being chosen as the likely dumping ground for the nasty waste - not a good idea for the king if he wants to stay in power ;-)
I wish Jordanians were more realistic in their aspirations, or would research better. Why do you think so many European nations are backing off from the nuclear option? The dependency from a shrinking resource (yes, folks, uranium deposits are going to terminate just like oil) will make it hard for the Jordanian government to negotiate with the two, three potential uranium exporters.
I'm just glad that that there are some more future-oriented people around in Jordan(e.g. at the National Energy Research Center). Because the future is in renewable energy and efficieny gains. And yes, these are possible in Jordan, and a more promising passtime for Jordanian engineers than to dream about the nuclear option. Good luck, Jordan!

At 2:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi we recently acquired a majority stake in CEGCO, the largest power company in Jordan. I would be interested to hear more on your views.

At 5:36 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Having the chance to use nuclear energy would be tremendous, but unrealistic in Jordan, not just because this would be a waste of financial resources, but the amount of money to be spent on a nuclear energy reactor could be spent on building wind farms in southern Jordan, and conducting research and applications on carbon absorbing materials. I believe that would benefit the country on a larger scale.

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