Basel Burgan: A Force Behind Jordan’s Anti-Nuke Movement

jordan nuclear greenpeace
Our interview with activist Basel Burgan, a leading figure against nuclear proliferation for energy, in Jordan. 

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

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16 thoughts on “Basel Burgan: A Force Behind Jordan’s Anti-Nuke Movement”

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  2. Trena says:

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  3. Bahjat Tabbara says:

    Dr Ayoub Abu-Dayyeh,

    Of the thirty countries that operate nuclear power plants, only France uses them as its primary source of electricity, although many of them have a significant nuclear power generation capacity.[citation needed] According to the nuclear power advocacy association World Nuclear Association, over 45 countries are giving “serious consideration” to introducing a nuclear power capability. Front runners, they say, are Iran, UAE, Turkey, Vietnam, Belarus and Jordan.[7]

    ………. and……………

    Can we ask ourselves why is Jordan in the nuclear race while one solar chimney can support its needs for a decade to come?

    With respect; that is meaningless. Likewise, I am a little baffled by the term ‘solar chimney’ but I will say that we have under-invested in solar power. That said, it is NOT a solution in itself for growing demand.

    To illustrate; CPV can only operate on low gridworks (i.e. on a small scale) as opposed to mass production. Even then CPV only offers a 30-35% capacity factor (alas a weighted average) as it doesn’t coincide with ‘peak loads’ thus UNLESS you introduce TOD (Time Of Day) pricing (which seems to be effective in Japanese studies) you have no hope of ‘load-shifting’ (& we all know, Jordanians oppose price hikes).

    In practical factors 1000 MW of CPV ONLY provides 2.63 TwH of electricity, or 23% of existing consumption (2010) which is NOT profitable; but to be fair would save about 15,000 barrels per day (our consumption is 105,000 bpd).

    On the other hand, CSP offers near 99% power, 8.6 TwH, however, at a very high cost:


    Finally, the study acknowledged how technology for CSP was improving and how this would result in a drastic price decrease by 2050. It predicted a drop from the current range of €0.23–0.15/kwh to €0.14–0.10/kwh.[23]

    In short; even at the most optimistic figure, we are talking about
    $0.195 [0.138 JD] for the promising CSP. Again, this is slightly higher than oil (even w/subsidies) at 17-18 cents per kWh.

    To give you an example, a barrel of fuel oil offers 1900 kW or so, but with 33% thermal efficiency; even at $100 per barrel it is $0.16 [0.113 JD] per kWh!!!!!!!!

  4. Bahjat Tabbara says:

    Dear Dr. Ayoub

    Good Day.

    I will only say these numbers and percentages mean little-to-nothing because relevant variables have been ommited (on purpose) such as factor capacity or even transmission losses. They even lack clarity (for example Iceland has volcanic steam to supply 100% of their needs)hence these numbers lack aggregates or even discussion.

    To give you an example of each country:

    Czech Republic
    United Kingdom

    Just to correct some errors; Sweden has decided that it will NOT phase-out nuclear power, despite 2010 being the deadline for such a phase-out. It is looking into new reactors. On the other hand, Spain is considering purchasing new units. The rest are anti-nuclear by referendum; or rely heavily on French power (which earns them handsome profits).

    Thus, Jordan COULD be a nation that exports electricity to less controversial nations of the world (Syria or Iraq) and assists others such as KSA or Lebanon; both of whom have shortages. Indeed, our ability to absorb a Research Reactor, offer nuclear engineering courses and even (dare I say) operate reactors of the GCC and our friends & neighbours reveals our strong position.

    Yet the anti-nuclear people are trying to turn it into a disposition. Can we really sit by while the GCC’s existing advantages (oil, gas and soon nuclear power -with Jordanian engineers-) multiplies, while renewables fail to supply our needs? As it is, even 1000 MW of renewable power would only supply 28% of our electricity requirements. Respectable; but the cost would be greater than oil or gas because we lack CO2 emission tax/credit.

  5. The connection displays:
    Austria 64% Renewable share in 2006, up to 78% in 2010
    Sweden 48% to 60%
    Portugal 39%
    Denmark 29%
    Spain 29.4%
    Italy 25%
    Greece 20%

  6. Dear Bahjat,
    I quote from Wikipedia:
    As of June 2011, countries such as Australia, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Israel, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Norway remain opposed to nuclear power.[4][6]
    Of the thirty countries that operate nuclear power plants, only France uses them as its primary source of electricity, although many of them have a significant nuclear power generation capacity.[citation needed] According to the nuclear power advocacy association World Nuclear Association, over 45 countries are giving “serious consideration” to introducing a nuclear power capability. Front runners, they say, are Iran, UAE, Turkey, Vietnam, Belarus and Jordan.[7]
    Can we ask ourselves why is Jordan in the nuclear race while one solar chimney can support its needs for a decade to come?

  7. Bahjat Tabbara says:

    The anti-nuclear lobby has adopted a McCarthy like attitude towards supporters of nuclear power; essentially accusing us of being agents or paid representatives of the JAEC. My own misgivings about the nuclear programme aside; I support the principle, but I do not support the details. For example, water desalinisation should have been the #1 priority of the nuclear programme, not so much because we don’t have water (30-60 mcm are needed by my own estimates) but because electricity can wait while we focus on the water issue first.

    For example, a 1100 MW reactor can supply upwards of 1200 – 1600 mcm of water (Jordan’s demand is around 1650 mcm of water, of which only 900 mcm is supplied; half from non-renewable sources) thus, Unit 1 would resolve water issues, and Unit 2 onwards would be dedicated to electricity. CSP technology is NOT EVEN CLOSE towards matching these, or the operating costs.

    I may also add that many anti-nuclear critics (and without wishing to seem callous) are at the latter end of their lives. I am not going endure darkness over the graves of men and women who had no vision for our future.

  8. Bahjat Tabbara says:

    All of these sources have so far proven to be propaganda; but the real propaganda is the false assertion that renewables can substitute for nuclear power. As it is, no nation relies on renewables to even supply a sizable quantity of their electric energy (with some very isolated exceptions) such as Iceland.

    Returning to the issue at hand; the people who oppose nuclear power are largely like those people who assert that men never landed on the moon; despite all the evidence. Indeed, states such as Germany make decisions base

    The shortcomings of nuclear power (not failures) are to be expected; indeed solar power has shortcomings, but the ‘failure’ is a relative term. All types of energy are complimentary; not substitutes for each other. As such, I support the nuclear programme as much as I support solar, wind and even (dare I say) gas or oil-fired facilities. I oppose shale oil on the principle that the technology is not mature enough to resolve the environmental costs.

    Yet w/respect to Drs Ayoub and Burgan; I see no alternative to the nuclear programme; from what we are seeing, more European nations are turning to nuclear such United Kingdom, France, Bulgaria, Poland, Czech Republic, Netherlands and Sweden in fact, the Swedes were supposed to phase out nuclear power by 2010. They planning new systems. On top of that Russia, China, S.Korea and India are adding to their fleets (in fact, S.Korea is to supply the UAE w/14 systems); while France has over-capacity until 2030; selling extra to Germany would be a welcome relief from this surplus.

    Add to this, third rate technologies (early Generation II BWR especially) cannot be compared to Jordan’s reactors, all in the Generation III bracket; and in one bidder’s case, a Generation III+ design that is 2nd-to-none.

  9. Laurie says:

    Thanks, BB – will contact you offline to get Dr Abu Dayyeh details –

  10. Basel Burgan says:

    Dr Ayoub Abu Dayyeh is a very good source of scientific data about the failures of the Nuclear Power Plant project in Jordan and anywhere else

  11. Laurie says:

    Faten, Samar, Murtaza and Ayoub –

    Thanks for your comments. Are any of you aware of other leaders in the Jordan anti-nuke affort? Have been getting requests for more information, and would like to point new supporters in the right direction!

    Thanks again, Laurie

  12. Ayoub says:

    We are proud of you Basel and will support you till the very end. Jordan is far important for us than our lives, we will defend it from pollution, corruption and nuclear waste radioactivity at all cost.

  13. Murtaza says:

    Thanks Laurie and Basel Burgan for publishing this great interview!

  14. Samar Tarazi says:

    Good luck Basel!!

  15. Faten A Al-Hourani says:

    hope that you find listening ears of the government, especially the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources
    Forward , God be with you

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