Jordan cited Japan on quake risk to reactor

BELGRADE Wed Mar 16, 2011 10:54pm IST

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BELGRADE (Reuters) - Japan was an example cited by Jordanian nuclear officials to calm past Israeli concerns about Jordan's plan to build a nuclear reactor near an earthquake fault line, according to a U.S. diplomatic cable from 2009.

Jordan is currently planning its first 1,000 megawatt nuclear power plant, although it has recently shifted away from an initially proposed site in an earthquake fault zone.

According to the U.S. Embassy cable, Amman attempted to ease Israeli concerns about the reactor and its initially proposed location near the port city of Aqaba by inviting Israeli nuclear experts to meet their Jordanian counterparts.

One of the areas of Israeli concern was the danger earthquakes could pose to the future reactor and the impact such a geological disaster could in turn have on Israel. They were referring to a proposed site near the southern Red Sea port city of Aqaba. Israel also has its own nuclear plant built near a faultline at Dimona, which dates back half a century.

"The Israeli delegation ... expressed concerns about the site selection of Aqaba being near a fault line, and the Israeli geologist gave a presentation on seismic issues on the Israeli side of the Rift Valley," according to the cable, obtained by WikiLeaks and reviewed by Reuters.

"The Jordanians responded that Japan also has earthquake problems but still builds nuclear power plants, which the Israelis acknowledged as true but also extremely costly," the cable continued.

"The Jordanians then assured their Israeli counterparts that the winds blow southwest, not northwest towards Israel."

According to an Israeli official who briefed U.S. officials about the delegation's visit "the meeting revealed that the Jordanians did not have a good understanding yet of seismology, environmental issues, or financial requirements."

Jordan has since shifted the proposed location of the nuclear reactor from near Aqaba to a site 45 km northeast of the capital Amman. Jordan's Atomic Energy Commission has also extended the deadline for three companies pre-selected to bid for the reactor technology to the end of August to allow them to adjust plans in view of the change in location.

Another U.S. diplomatic cable from 2009 said the government of Jordan (GOJ) had signed memoranda agreements on nuclear energy cooperation with Canada, France, the United States, Korea, Russia, the United Kingdom and others.

"Despite a flurry of activity, there is little clarity on which partners the GOJ hopes to seriously engage, raising concerns within the diplomatic community about how well thought out the GOJ's approach to developing nuclear energy is."

Israel offered reassurances on Monday that its Dimona nuclear facility, which is closed to foreign inspection, was safe and unlikely to suffer the fate of Japanese reactors hit by last week's earthquake and tsunami.

Dimona, in southern Israel, and a smaller reactor at Soreq, near Tel Aviv, had a combined energy capacity "around 50 times less" than any of the affected sites in Japan and were under safeguards of the highest international standard, the Israel Atomic Energy Commission said.

"The chances of damage or technical fault are of the lowest possible order, and the emergency authorities are prepared to deal with such events," it said in a statement about the two reactors, which are not used to produce electrical power.

(Additional reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; editing by Simon Robinson and Sara Ledwith)

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