Jordan has signed a $12m deal with Belgian-based Tractebel Engineering to push forward with a plan to build the first nuclear power plant in the country.

The head of Jordan’s Atomic Energy Commission, Khaled Toukan, signed the deal in Amman with the French-Belgian company.

Toukan said the company will carry out a two-year environmental impact study to determine whether the planned location – a desert area near the Saudi border about 15 miles (25km) south of the Red Sea port of Aqaba – is in fact the best location for protecting “both public health and the environment,” reported Associated Press.

In January 2007, the Jordan’s ruler, King Abdullah II, announced his intention to develop a peaceful nuclear programme, a plan that has US backing.

Toukan’s commission has estimated that nuclear energy would constitute 30% of the energy produced in Jordan by 2030 and convert the kingdom into an energy exporter.