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In a nuclear accident

Mar 26,2014 - Last updated at Mar 26,2014

In July last year, the director of the Jordanian Atomic Energy Commission (JAEC) stated that the operator of a nuclear power plant (NPP) is the “only entity responsible for any compensation of nuclear harm as a result of nuclear accidents”.

This was in response to a question sent by a member of Parliament to Abdullah Ensour’s government.

The director assured the parliamentarian that the NPP operator will contract an insurance policy “which will be around 300 million SDR [special drawing rights], equal to around $446 million for each accident”.

Hearing this, any Jordanian would have to ask: “So, how much is Jordan worth?”

Could it be possible that Jordan is worth only $446 million?

Al Rai newspaper quoted Japanese officials, on June 1, 2011, as having said that the cleanup of the Fukushima accident would cost about $250 billion, 500 times higher than JAEC’s requested insurance.

At the time of the Fukushima accident, the wind currents were heading east, towards the Pacific Ocean. In 10 days, radioactivity had reached the shores of California, where authorities distributed iodine capsules to the residents.

In one of its studies, the French Nuclear Safety Authority found that “a nuclear accident similar to the one at Japan’s Fukushima reactor would cost France about 430 billion euros ($580 billion), or 20 per cent of its economic output” (Reuters, February 6, 2013).

That would be 1,300 times higher than the $446 million insurance coverage declared by the JAEC!

Hundreds of thousands of soldiers were involved in containing the Chernobyl catastrophe.

Soviet pilots died shortly after flying over the site in a mission to dump cement mixed with boric acid over the reactor.

It took Soviet scientists six months to locate the radioactive fuel in the melted core of the Chernobyl reactor. The work was eventually cut back due to the high death rate of scientists and engineers involved in the containment, and after they were sure that no chain explosions will occur from the nuclear fuel (BBC November 21, 1997).

The nuclear fuel under the dome of the Fukushima reactor remains uncontained three years later. Luckily, the waters of the Pacific Ocean act as a cooling system to this highly radioactive rubble.

In Chernobyl, l, 230,000 people were resettled and hundreds of thousands died from radiation poisoning.

In Japan, 160,000 people were resettled so far.

So would $446 million be enough for Jordan to clean up and compensate potential victims?

Countries with nuclear power in their energy mix have paid a high price for safety failures.

In the US alone, six nuclear accidents over the past 35 years resulted in damages that cost billions of dollars: 1979, Three Mile Island, 2.4 billion; 1985, Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant, 1.8 billion; 1986, Pilgrim Nuclear Station, 1 billion; 2002, Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station, 605 million; 2009, Crystal River Nuclear Power Plant, 1 billion; 2010 Vermont Power Station, 700 million.

Nuclear damage is not confined to immediate mass-scale disasters. It is continuous, particularly for nearby residents.

Health studies from the UK (the Black Report), Germany (the KiKK study), France (The Geocap study, 2002-2007) and the US (the South Florida, San Francisco, and the Sacramento California studies, among others) have established links between residential proximity to NPPs (20km or more) and a high incidence of radiation exposure among children, in particular, childhood acute leukaemia.

A remarkable drop in cancer cases and child mortality after NPPs were shut down has also been reported.

By now, no one will deny that in the face of a nuclear catastrophe ranking 4-7 in Jordan, JAEC’s $446 million insurance policy would undoubtedly be adequate compensation only to Jordanian shepherds for the slaughter of their radiation-affected sheep.

The writer is president of the Jordanian Friends of Environment. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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