Jordan signs deal for first nuclear power plant

Jordan signed a $12 million deal Saturday with a Belgian company as it pushes forward with a plan to build the first nuclear power plant for the oil-barren dessert kingdom. The head of Jordan's Atomic Energy Commission, Khaled Toukan, signed the deal in Amman with the head of Tractebel Engineering, Georges Cornet. Toukan said the company would first carry out a two-year environmental impact study to determine whether the planned location - a desert area near the Saudi border about 15 miles (25 kilometers) south of the Red Sea port of Aqaba - is in fact the best location for protecting "both public health and the environment." In January 2007, the country's ruler, King Abdullah II, announced his intention to develop a peaceful nuclear program, a plan that has US backing. Toukan's commission has estimated that nuclear energy would constitute 30 percent of the energy produced in Jordan by 2030 and would convert the kingdom into an energy exporter. Jordan has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and has long called for a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction.