Russia to sign nuclear deal with Cairo

The Egyptian government will sign a contract with Russia’s Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation, which specializes in the manufacturing of nuclear plants, to build the Dabaa nuclear power plant in Matrouh governorate.

Cold-Fusion-Rossi-1-537x392Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will lay the cornerstone of the project in October, and Russia will take on the execution of the project. Official reports say Rosatom made the best offer from a financial, technical and political perspective, beating offers from other countries, including Japan, France, South Korea and China.

During Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Cairo in February, Sisi and Putin (pictured together below), signed a memorandum of understanding to build a nuclear power plant in Dabaa, northern Egypt. Sisi was keen to meet personally with the head of Rosatom, Sergey Kiriyenko, during his visit to Moscow in August to study financial and technical matters.

According to Egyptian media reports, the Russian offer distinguished itself from the others in seven areas. Most importantly, the Russian company will produce 100% of the power plant’s components and will not rely on the import of plant components from other countries. Moreover, there are no political conditions on Egypt for the establishment of the nuclear plant. The Russian company will  establish an information center to promote popular acceptance of nuclear energy. Egypt will pay  the costs of establishing the nuclear power plant after it is completed and is in operation.  Russian factories will be established in Egypt to manufacture nuclear plant components locally and transfer Russian expertise in this field to the Egyptians.

The Russian offer includes establishing a station with four units of 1,200-megawatt capacity each, at a cost of more than $10 billion. Since February, Russian energy experts have made several visits to the Dabaa site — a project that has been in the works since the era of President Anwar Sadat (1970-1981), although it was first mooted by President Nasser in the mid-1950s.

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In regard to the reason for the project having been stalled since its announcement in 1955, Ali al-Saidi, the former minister of electricity and one of the scientists who participated in building the Anshas nuclear research reactor in 1960,explained: “At first, the nuclear project, which was to be implemented with the Soviet Union was stopped because of the 1967 war [Six-Day Way]. It was later project bid upon in the 1970s in a competition between US companies, after US President Richard Nixon promised to provide nuclear plants to both Egypt and Israel. Then a US law was passed obliging countries acquiring nuclear plant technologies to be subject to inspection standards from the country of origin, which is America, so the project stopped.”

Saidi said, “In the 1980s, there was competition between US and French companies. Then came the Chernobyl incident, giving nuclear projects a bad name for the Egyptian public.”

He added that Egyptian decision-makers moved away from the project in the 1990s because of the discovery of gas in Egypt. “The gas was sufficient to cover the country’s needs for a while. Then in 2006, the idea emerged again and ​​Egypt started its procedures with the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] to build a nuclear plant in Dabaa,” he noted.

The Dabaa project stalled under President Hosni Mubarak (1981-2011). There was widespread controversy in the popular and political circles about whether the location was suitable. Egyptian businessmen asked the government to move it to another location so that Dabaa could be used to develop tourism projects. There were also a number of local protests expressing concern about the possible harmful environmental effects of the project.

In 2009, the Egyptian government commissioned an Australian company, Worley Parsons, to review the situation. The results of the study  were presented to the IAEA, that confirmed Dabaa as a suitable location based on meteorological conditions, earthquake risks, groundwater movement, sea currents and tides and various  demographic studies.

Saidi expects the Egyptian nuclear power plant to enter service in 2022, for a period between of six and eight years. He stressed the importance of the scheme as an extension of the Egyptian-Russian alliance in Nasser’s era, when Russia had a long history in supporting Egypt. The Soviets established the Anshas nuclear research reactor in 1961 in al-Sharqia governorate and contributed to the establishment of the Aswan High Dam.

Six nuclear reactors will be set up in the Dabaa area, as part of the scheme. They will allow Egypt to overcome the power outage crisis and help support development projects in the West Delta in Toshka for the cultivation of 540,000 acres, and in east Sinai to reclaim new land, a spokesman said.”

This article by Walaa Hussein was originally published by Al Monitor

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