Who's Afraid of the Jordanian Atom?

Amman believes enriching local uranium for electricity could solve both power and water crises, but Washington and Jerusalem don't want another nuclear power in the region

Jordan has a number of good reasons to be angry with Israel. The most recent is the stymieing of Jordan's wish to exploit the uranium discovered in its territory.

King Abdullah II of Jordan delivering a speech in Amman

Since the beginning of the year, Jordan has been negotiating with the United States for backing to produce nuclear fuel from the uranium and use it for the future operation of nuclear power plants.

Formally, Jordan does not need American approval. As a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it has the right to produce nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes. In this way, its status resembles that of Iran, another signatory. However, the Iranian experience has made it clear to Jordan that it is best to get American agreement and avoid Washington's wrath.

It very soon became clear to Jordan, though, that when it is negotiating with the United States, it is in fact also negotiating with Israel, which made it clear to Washington that it could not reconcile itself to Amman producing nuclear fuel.

It is not that Israel, which is not a signatory to the treaty, opposes nuclear reactors in Jordan or the production of electricity. Israel simply fears that the Jordanian nuclear fuel could leak to other, less friendly countries.

King Abdullah was furious about the Israeli position and in his talks with U.S. President Barack Obama he made it clear that his country has the full right to produce nuclear fuel and that it plans to stand up for this right.

However, at the end of last week, Washington informed Jordan that it would not agree to the production of the fuel within its borders and that it would instead have to acquire nuclear fuel on the world market.

From Jordan's point of view, this is not merely a diplomatic slap in the face - suddenly it is being looked at like another Iran - but also an economic blow.

In March, Jordan signed an agreement to have a nuclear facility for research purposes built by the South Korean Institute for Nuclear Energy and Daewoo Engineering and Construction. These came in the wake of agreements for finding and extracting uranium that it had signed with the French company Areva SA, the largest manufacturer of reactors in Europe, which once had close ties with Tehran.

According to the agreement with Jordan, Areva is supposed to produce the nuclear fuel out of what is believed to be some 65,000 tons of uranium buried below the Hashemite Kingdom.

In addition, Jordan hopes to produce 130,000 tons of uranium from the approximately one and a half billion tons of phosphates it has. In the wake of the discovery of the uranium, Abdullah ordered a change of strategy in the production of energy in Jordan and called for the establishment of four nuclear reactors by the year 2030. With the energy it could produce, the kingdom would be able not only to supply its own needs but also sell electricity to Syria and Iraq.

For Jordan, which imports more than 95 percent of its oil needs, this could be a tremendous economic break that could free it from its dependency on foreign oil and could help in the development of water desalination plants.

Last month, Dr. Khaled Toukan, head of the Jordanian Atomic Energy Commission, released figures showing Jordan as one of the 10 poorest countries in water resources. The average consumption per capita is 170 cubic meters in the kingdom, as compared with a global average of 7,000 cubic meters, the figures show.

According to Toukan, Jordan's water deficit will grow to more than 1.5 billion cubic meters by the year 2025, putting the country in a precarious position.

In order to avoid this threat, Jordan needs to diversify its water sources. Enter desalination. However, making saltwater drinkable requires a great deal of cheap energy.

Amman is having difficulty understanding how the United States and Israel can ignore their excellent historical relations with the kingdom, instead seeing only the danger that Jordan will turn into a nuclear power that could develop nuclear weapons.

Swimming with a veil

The summer tourist season is being greeted by new billboards at hotels and restaurants in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria: "No entry for women with veils," and "No swimming in the pools except in bathing suits." These instructions have irked Egyptian member of parliament Farid Ismail, who questioned the prime minister and tourism minister over them.

According to the rulings of some of Egypt's most prominent religious sages, veiled women are permitted to enjoy the delights of beaches and to visit swimming pools "but on condition that they do not do anything that would annoy Allah."

The sages believe that religious men who hold prayer sessions in public on the beach or at a swimming pool could bring secular citizens to Islam and therefore believe religious people should go swimming. The sages feel that preventing veiled women from going to the private beaches or swimming pools is discrimination and that those who discriminate like this should be brought to trial.

The owners of hotels and clubs, for their part, have the support of the government, which in the past two years has taken action against women in veils as a tacit policy. These women are not allowed to work as teachers in schools or in government offices nor can they appear as announcers on television or work in the Egyptian foreign service.