The Jordan Times reports that energy officials have expanded their search for a nuclear reactor site in Mafraq despite growing resistance from city residents and anti-nuclear supporters throughout the Kingdom. It’s also the final phase of vendor selection for the country’s first nuclear reactor: a final decision will be made this month.
Here Green Prophet interviews Basel Burgan, head of anti-nuke lobbyists The National Campaign to save Jordanians from the Nuclear Project. Burgan’s also the general manager and owner of Burgan Drugstores, and is committed proponent for a nuclear-free Jordan. He’s working to change the direction of Jordan’s power generation. Here’s our exclusive with this leading anti-nuke activist in Jordan.
Green Prophet: How did you get involved in environmental issues?
Basel Burgan: I’ve been an environmentalist since my childhood. When I was young, we spent every weekend in the Jordanian countryside. What made me more active in the past decade was the destruction of River Zarka.
When I was a teenager in the 70s, I used to drink water directly from this river. Now I wouldn’t stick my finger in it, it’s much polluted. I’m very critical of what the government does in respect to controlling the dumping of chemicals and waste from the 200 factories on Zarka’s banks.
Over the past 3 years, government announcements about nuclear power plant (NPP) projects made us very angry, especially when they announced in 2009 their intention to build 5 NPPs. With my background in the medical field, I understand that radiation can’t be seen, smelt, felt or heard, which leads us to the greatest danger of NPPs.
Green Prophet: What are some of the major challenges you are facing?
BB: The major challenge is the government’s undemocratic reaction to our requests for their scientific supporting documents, which might show due diligence in terms of fully evaluating our environmental and safety concerns. We have continually requested the Prime Minister to meet with us over NPPs. The Jordanian press publishes anything released from the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC), but rarely presents our critical responses or our scientific arguments on the issue.
The average Jordanian isn’t interested in knowing about the dangers of nuclear energy. “Elitists” take a view that it’s the right of Jordan to acquire nuclear power to counter Israel’s, as if Jordan will produce atomic bombs to counter Israel’s.
The JAEC annual budget for 2012 is $22.4 million US. This allows them to do many things that we (anti-nuclear campaigners) cannot. They can spend more on public relations. Because they are governmental they can communicate on an official level while we, as an NGO, cannot. They can work to progress their projects all the time, while we, as volunteers with day-jobs, have limited time to fight the program. They can strangle us anti-nuclear activists in different economic ways that are very much known in the developing countries.
Green Prophet: Why do you think NPP developers would be interested in Jordan?
BB: The West has been moving away from nuclear power. The Three Mile Island accident in 1979 halted US development, and 1986’s Chernobyl disaster raised opposition in Europe. The Italians voted 94% with No to Nuclear in large part due to Fukushima last year. The Japanese last month reached 80% refusing nuclear. With the West closing down nuclear reactors and shifting to gas and renewables, companies that specialize in building and running NPP (like French Areva) have to find new business by any means and Third World developing countries become their best target.
I’m sure many of them will explore corrupt means to get contracts. French Areva lost 70% of its shares’ value since 2007 and at least 30% in the 12 months after Fukushima. These dying companies are becoming dangerous.
What upsets me is that Areva has bid on the Jordan project with a model (ATMEA 1) that hasn’t been built or tested anywhere in the world. Similar versions of this ATMEA 1 are being built in Olkiluoto, Finland and in Normandy, France and both were found to have major design defects.
Those defects will likely go unnoticed if it’s built in Jordan since we lack NPP experience compared to Europe.
Green Prophet: What worries you about having a nuclear plant in Jordan?
BB: The first worry is that we don’t have a sea like the Sea of Japan where millions of cubic meters of water were tapped to cool reactors in a catastrophe.
The second is we don’t have a water body that JAEC could pollute to get rid of a spill. The Japanese have been dumping radioactive water in the Sea of Japan with disastrous longterm effects. Jordan is the 4th poorest country in the world in respect to fresh water resources. How can we consider a NPP when we don’t have water to drink?
It also worries me to see how Jordanians deal with this issue as if it’s only building a highway (and even our basic highways have many construction defects).
Green Prophet: What are some of your major achievements?
BB: Our first major achievement was educating the local inhabitants of the area where the 1st NPP was to be built. The local population thought in the beginning that prices of adjacent land would increase; now they know land will be valueless. They thought the NPP would create good jobs for their young people; they now understand that most workers would be brought from outside.
They thought the NPP would create new business opportunities (e.g., minimarkets, restaurants); now they understand that all worker services will be provided for within the compound’s high walls and fences.
The locals learned that many global studies have proved that while a facility might not have experienced a catastrophic failure, the population within a 20 km radius had an increase in cancers and genetic mutations.
Resultantly, the local Bani Hassan Tribe (population near 1 million) strongly refused siting the NPP on their land.
We also succeeded in having the project addressed in the Jordanian Parliament where a majority of MPs also refused to support the nuclear program.
What are your future plans?
BB: We will keep publishing articles, giving lectures at universities, schools, clubs, syndicates, etc., and use all methods of pressure so as to stop the project and shut down the JAEC. We have many plans and we will use all of them until we see the JAEC shut down.
What inspires you?
BB: My children, my 7 year old twins, are my first inspiration. I believe that I owe them their future: a clean country with 100% security. My other inspirations are the great Jordanians I’ve have met throughout the Jordan countryside who are very appreciative and respectful of what I’m doing.
Serious pursuit of alternative energy production seems absent in Jordan. Why do you think solar and wind projects are not as supported as nuclear?
BB: This question has depressed me for a long while. First, the Jordanian representatives of commercial companies that produce renewable energy are extremely passive which makes us angry.
Second, the JAEC has been misleading about the dependence on renewable energy for Base Load and Peak Load. And last, there’s ignorance by our government officials that set such policies and refuse to hear us.
Are there any specific philosophies that guide your environmental actions?
BB: Humanity and Human Rights are what guide my actions. We all need to live on a clean Mother Earth with all natural resources well kept for the next generation. What I see instead is world where resources are vanishing or becoming polluted faster than anyone can believe. Carbon emissions, pollution, global warming, population explosions and attacks on human rights all over the world catalyze my ethical obligation to action.
How can people best get involved to influence nuclear development in Jordan?
BB: The ways are endless. They can write articles to the press or convince journalists to do so. They can communicate via Social Media. They can send letters to the Prime Minister, to the different ministers and to the MPs. They can hold meetings to address the issues at their places of work or anywhere in their private life. They can incite friends and family to become active. They can protest or join “sit ins”.
Is there a message you would like broadcast to GP readers?
BB: We’re all together on this. Nuclear power plants are catastrophic wherever they are. We all should be united and supportive to change the world towards Renewable Green & Clean Energy. Thank you all for this opportunity to share our message.
Top photo via Greenpeace Jordan; Town meeting by Basel Burgan