Amid the coronavirus pandemic that has delayed mega projects scheduled for this year in Egypt, such as the New Administrative Capital and the Grand Egyptian Museum, work on Egypt’s first nuclear project continues around the clock.
“The work is currently underway despite the coronavirus and there is no amendment to the timetable for the Dabaa nuclear plant project,” Ayman Hamza, spokesperson for the Electricity and Renewable Energy Ministry, told Al-Monitor.
The Dabaa nuclear power plant (NPP), located along the northern west coast of Egypt on the Mediterranean Sea in Dabaa city in Matrouh governorate, is designed to diversify the country’s energy sources.
Russian-Egyptian cooperation on the NPP started in 2015 when both countries signed an agreement for Russia to construct Egypt’s first nuclear power plant.
According to the agreement, Russia would provide a $25 billion loan to Egypt to cover 85% of the construction cost, while Egypt would fund the remaining amount through private investors.
The Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom) will be responsible for building the four VVER-1200 pressurized water reactors, which are capable of producing 1,200 MW each for a total of 4,800 MW. The project will be owned and operated by the Nuclear Power Plant Authority under the Egyptian Ministry of Electricity and Renewable Energy.
The first unit is expected to begin operations in 2026 and the three remaining reactors in 2028-2029.
Hamza said that a set of strict precautionary measures have been taken at the site due to the COVID-19 pandemic, including holding meetings via video conference.
“Egyptian workers and Russian experts who are present at the Dabaa site or other foreign experts at all the sites affiliated with the ministry have a medical examination every 14 days,” he explained.
Hamza said that the work at the site is taking place in three stages that started in 2017.
“The first one was to prepare the site, and this was started in December 2017 and lasted 30 months. The second stage will start after obtaining the construction permit. This includes all works related to construction, training and preparations to commence the operational tests. The last one includes pre-operation tests and the official opening of the unit,” he explained.
The site selection approval permit, issued in March last year, verifies that the project site and its specific conditions comply with national and international requirements.
Hamza did not give a date, saying, “The [nuclear power plant authority] is working to get the construction permit soon” from the Egyptian Nuclear and Radiological Regulatory Authority.
Meanwhile, three Egyptian contractors won the tender for constructing the first nuclear unit at the Dabaa plant, Rosatom subsidiary Atomstroyexport announced in February.
According to Atomstroyexport's vice president, Grigory Sosnin, the company’s top priority in the Dabaa project is to have 20% participation by Egyptian companies in the first phase. He added that a number of other tenders are due to be held this year for the rest of construction work and the goal is for Egyptian participation to reach 35% by the end of work.
Experts hailed the Dabaa project for its great potential impact on the country’s economy as well as a guarantee to prevent future crises resulting from shortages in electricity.
Yousry Abushady, a former senior inspector at the International Atomic Energy Agency, said that the electricity generated by the plant will adequately meet the growing demand for electricity in Egypt.
He added that the Dabaa project will increase the gross domestic product of Egypt, not only by increasing the revenues of local contractors, but also by stimulating growth in related industries such as building materials, equipment, machinery, facilities and other services as well as over 50,000 job opportunities.
Karim al-Adham, former president of the National Center for Nuclear Safety and Radiation Control, told Al-Monitor, “Generating electricity from nuclear fuel is more environmentally friendly than any other fuel, like gas or petroleum.” He pointed out that the plant will operate using modern reactor technology.
“The plant contains a safe and error-resistant design for human factors. It can work over 60 years and it has an unprecedented ability to resist damage,” Adham said. He explained that it could withstand the impact of a 400-ton plane with a speed of 150 meters per second or earthquakes up to an intensity of nine on the Richter scale.
“The nuclear reactors are also characterized by safe operation without any negative effects on the surrounding environment. These reactors also prevent radiological leakage through filters, multiple barriers and automatic failsafe systems,” he added.
The Dabaa plant is not the only mega project between Russia and Egypt. There are a number of other important projects underway between the two countries, including the establishment of the Russian industrial zone in the Suez Canal Economic Zone, which is expected to attract investments worth $7 billion.
Acting Russian trade representative in Cairo Nikolai Aslanov said in an April 12 interview with Egyptian business newspaper Almal that Russian companies are planning to invest another $1.5 billion in Egypt during this year. He added that the value of Russian investments in Egypt at the end of last year reached $7.5 billion, 60% of it in the oil and gas sector. Aslanov stressed that Egypt is one of Russia's strategic partners in Africa and the Middle East.
He pointed out that last year Egypt received more than 130 business delegations from Russian companies to discuss joint projects and job opportunities.
“The Egyptian-Russian discussions included investing opportunities in the fields of oil and gas exploration, nuclear energy, the establishment of the Russian industrial zone, mining, the manufacture of cars and agricultural machinery, information technology, pharmaceuticals, banking services and modernizing the infrastructure of the railways,” Aslanov added.