Rio Tinto signs Jordanian exploration deal

24 February 2009

The Jordanian government has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) covering exploration and mining of uranium and other ores with British-Australian mining company Rio Tinto.

According to Jordan's state-run news agency Petra, the MoU was signed by Khalid Touqan, head of the Jordan Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC), and Rio Tinto director Tim Moody. The agreement allows 18 months to establish a general framework for exploration for uranium, thorium, zirconium and other metals, and also foresees the future creation of a consortium for further exploration and mining. Rio Tinto is to bear the financial burden of the exploration project.

Rio Tinto spokesman Nick Cobban confirmed that the company's exploration arm had signed an exploration agreement with the JAEC. "It's an area where there is potential for uranium exploration, that's why we are interested in it," he told World Nuclear News.

Jordan is poor in terms of both energy and water resources. It currently imports some 95% of its energy requirements, but it does have uranium: according to the government, there are some 140,000 tonnes of uranium in low-cost resources plus another 59,000 tonnes in phosphate deposits. A feasibility study on the recovery of by-product uranium from phosphate production is under way, and in October 2008 French fuel cycle company Areva signed an agreement with JAEC to define and mine uranium resources in central Jordan, with mining at the rate of 2000 tonnes per year envisaged from 2012.
Jordan is working towards addressing its energy poverty by introducing nuclear power for both energy supply and water desalination, with plans for its first plant to be up and running by 2015. It has signed nuclear cooperation agreements with Canada, China, France, the UK and the USA, covering both power and desalination, and has recently held talks with Japan on boosting energy cooperation. JAEC has also signed an agreement with Canadian reactor vendor AECL and SNC-Lavalin to look into the feasibility of setting up a nuclear power program based on the Canadian-designed Candu reactor, and is reported to be discussing the possibility of buying a reactor from Areva.