Will Russia help realize an Egyptian nuclear plant?
Sisi’s visit to Moscow - Photo courtesy of presidential office

CAIRO: Russia may be interested in cooperating to build Egypt’s first power plant, the nuclear affairs advisor of the Egyptian Nuclear Power Plants Authority Ibrahim el-Osery told The Cairo Post.

Osery said that Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his country’s readiness to cooperate, and in a Tuesday press conference between Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who paid a two-day visit to Moscow, Putin said both countries agreed to cooperate on peaceful nuclear energy.

Osery did not rule out that Sisi’s visit to Moscow could lead to an agreement on building the nuclear plant; “The President told us the visit would tackle topics among of which the nuclear field…I hope the president reach an agreement to start the project,” Osery said in an interview with The Cairo Post Sunday, adding that the proposed plant would provide between 900-1650 megawatts of electricity.

In his inauguration speech June 8, Sisi vowed that the Dabaa nuclear project would be revived during his term. “We will work on two axes: establishing Suez Canal Development project and building Dabaa nuclear plant; besides a project of solar energy,” Sisi said.

Reaching a deal with Russia by the non-tender contracting would save time, at least a year, Osery continued.

If Sisi did not order a non-tender contracting with a country to build the plant, the Power Plants Authority is ready to offer an international tender, Osery said.

Osery, also a former chief inspector in the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the tender terms set by the authority would include providing training courses for the staff, and that foreign financing shall constitute 85 percent of the project cost.

“The reactor will operate with pressurized light water, which is used in many reactors all over the world as it would be available anytime for us,” Osery said.

He noted the project could cost U.S. $ 4 billion, adding that the building would take 48 months, with a year for operation tests.

He added that representatives of six countries have visited Egypt to offer their tenders: South Korea, Russia, United States, France, China and Japan.

The project in the past:

In 1964, Sidi Karir, near Alexandria, was selected as the location for the nation’s first nuclear plant, but the project stopped due the war in 1967 with Israel, as well as the Three Mile Island accident, in which  a U.S. reactor suffered a partial nuclear meltdown, dampening momentum on the project, according to a study prepared by the University of Alexandria.

A 1981 presidential decree allocated the Dabaa area in Matrouh governorate, 183.9 miles away from Cairo on the North Coast,  for building the first nuclear 55-kilometer-square plant, however, construction has been stalled since then.

The project is slated to include 4 units inside the reactor to produce 1,200 to 1,500 megawatts of power, the former head of Dabaa nuclear project Foad Said told The Cairo Post.

“It was also planned that units of water desalination would be built to produce 1,500 cubic meters,” Said added.

There now exists a simple reactor at the nuclear research facilty in Inshas, which was established during the era of late President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and is now being used for industrial and agricultural research.

“Since then, nothing happened in the project as the government was waiting for a decision from former President Hosni Mubarak, but he was delaying it despite warnings of an impending electricity crisis,” Said noted.

Egypt has been suffering from a power crisis for more than a year, with daily rolling power cuts that last for hours.

No tenders have been announced yet for the project, however, there were many countries sent their representatives to Egypt and presented the international offers to build the plant besides offering their participation in financing the project with 80 percent of its cost which was $ 1.5 billion, Said continued.

The project cannot be compared with the projects of solar and wind plants, such plants are small and very highly cost beside that their maintenance is also highly cost and Egypt has no developed equipment necessary for such plants, Said said.


Dabaa Residents

The government evacuated about 500 families in 1982 to build the plant, which has not yet been constructed.

In 2012, local protesters allegedly attacked the site of the plant and stole equipment, causing $500 million in damages, an official from the Ministry of Electricity told al-Masry al-Youm newspaper on Jan. 16, 2012.

On Feb. 21, 2012, former Minister of Electricity Hassan Younis admitted that radioactive substances had also been stolen from the Dabaa site state-owned newspaper al-Ahram reported.

The residents reached a deal Sept. 30, 2013 with the army, which promised to pay financial compensation to the evacuated residents, a Dabaa resident spokesperson Mastour Bu Shekara told The Cairo Post.

“We asked the army to reconsider the area of the project and we were informed that the residential houses are away from the danger zone,” Bu Shekara continued.

“In July, we met with military chief of the staff Sedki Sobhi in Sidi Barrani (about 95 km east of the border with Libya) and studied all maps of the project and finally it was decided that the army would build 150 housing units with all required utilities for the residents,” Bu Shekara said. Next year, these units will be inaugurated, he noted.

He added that residents asked for a withdrawal of lawsuits filed by the Nuclear Plants Authority against the residents over stealing equipment and radioactive substances from the plant area in 2012.

Project pressures

“The project is safe. A possible danger to the nuclear plants could be an earthquake, but Dabaa plant is safe,” Minister of Environment Khaled Fahmy told The Cairo Post.

There is cooperation between the Ministries of Environment and Electricity to take into consideration the required safety measures, he added.

Fahmy downplayed the risk of human error similar to the Chernobyl incident in 1986, saying that technology has developed much since then, and projects include clear training.

The project “does not represent any risks to the people and the environment as long as all the security measures are being taken,” said Mawaheb Abu el-Azm, head of the Egyptian Environment Affairs Agency said.

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