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Russia launches production for Egypt’s nuclear power plant

Ukraine war not stopping Russia’s Rosatom from manufacturing equipment for Egypt’s first nuclear power plant.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (back-R) and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin (back-L).

CAIRO — In early June, Russia's state-owned atomic energy company, Rosatom, announced the start of production of equipment for the Egyptian nuclear power plant in Dabaa, northwest of Cairo.

The Russian announcement coincided with the visit to Moscow of a high-level Egyptian delegation led by the head of Egypt's Nuclear Power Plants Authority (NPPA), Amgad al-Wakeel, on June 1, during which he visited the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant and Russian factories in the city of Kolpino.

This comes nearly seven years after the Egyptian government signed an agreement with Russia in November 2015 to construct the first nuclear power plant in Egypt in Dabaa, which aims to generate a total of 4,800 megawatts through four reactors.

According to a statement by NPPA on June 1, the Egyptian delegation in Russia inspected two new power units with third-generation VVER-1200 reactors developed at the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant, which were operated in 2018 and 2021, respectively.

The delegation also toured the control room and the turbine building for each unit at the plant, in addition to the station’s education and training center.

In a statement June 1, Wakeel said that his visit to Russia “confirms that the Dabaa nuclear project is progressing without any interruption or obstacles. We believe that the Dabaa nuclear power plant will not only bring to Egypt the latest production technologies but will also contribute to increasing the well-being and prosperity of the Egyptian people during the coming decades.”

Meanwhile, Alexander Lokshin, first deputy director-general for nuclear energetics at Rosatom, said in a statement June 1, “The project is being implemented according to schedule. … We always stress that such complex, huge and long-term projects can only be implemented through full understanding between the client and the contractor,” in reference to Egypt and Russia.

Ali Abdel Nabi, former NPPA deputy head, told Al-Monitor, “The Egyptian delegation’s visit carries several political and technical dimensions at the same time, on top of which is that it comes in response to the controversy over the fate of the Dabaa plant since the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian war.”

“The Russian announcement of the start of manufacturing and the visit of the Egyptian delegation to Moscow are proof that the Egyptian nuclear project will not be affected by the war and is proceeding according to the project’s schedule,” he said.

Abdel Nabi added that “technically, the concrete pouring work for the containment basement of the first unit’s reactors should start within a few weeks, after obtaining permission to start construction from the Egyptian Nuclear and Radiological Regulatory Authority (ENRRA), upon confirming that safety standards, quality and control requirements are met. Then, the nuclear plant’s construction process can proceed on the ground.”

This was also touched on by Lokshin, who told reporters that the official start of construction is scheduled for the first half of July, according to the Russian TASS news agency.

“The formal date is July 11. Probably, a day earlier or a day later,” he said.

Sina Azodi, a visiting scholar and lecturer of International Affairs at the George Washington University’s Institute for Middle East Studies, told Al-Monitor, “The start of the project’s implementation means that Egypt will join other Middle Eastern countries that are developing their nuclear sector, including Iran and the UAE, which have already embarked on the path of producing electricity from nuclear power plants. This also reflects the region’s growing interest in nuclear technology in general.”

Rosatom has great capabilities and a background in working in the Middle East, and therefore it was a good candidate to take over the implementation of the Dabaa project,” he explained.

However, he said that the US and European sanctions on Russia might affect the implementation of the project.

“I believe that the economic sanctions could affect Russia’s ability to finance Egypt’s nuclear project because, under the contract’s terms, Russia is supposed to finance 85% of the project’s cost in the form of a government loan,” Azodi explained.

“Cutting Russia off from the global financial SWIFT system may harm Moscow’s abilities to fulfill its obligations. Egypt cannot fully support the project financially on its own,” he added.

According to TASS, the Dabaa nuclear power plant will be implemented at a cost of $30 billion, 85% of which is financed through a Russian loan of $25 billion with a 3% interest rate.

Cyril Widdershoven, a Middle East defense energy analyst and founder of VEROCY, an integrated risk consultancy firm based in the Netherlands, told Al-Monitor, “To move forward with the implementation of the Dabaa project confirms everyone’s expectation of nuclear cooperation between Egypt and Russia, and the main reason for this is the ongoing contracts — but also, the fact that Moscow and Cairo are still very close in terms of energy, investment and even military cooperation.”

“Energy cooperation between Egypt and Russia is still very strong, as both are eyeing more opportunities to work together. For Cairo, the Russian nuclear role is clear and important, as there are not many other options available [in the field of energy],” he added.

Widdershoven explained that “Russia’s establishment of a nuclear reactor in Egypt is a confirmation that despite Cairo’s criticism of the ongoing war in Ukraine, it continues to maintain strong ties with Moscow, given the latter’s investments in the Suez Canal Economic Zone.”

“As for Russia, Egypt is an important hub in the region, not only because of the Suez Canal’s strategic location, but also in light of Cairo’s strong position in the Arab world,” he added.

Ayman Samir, editor-in-chief of the local Egyptian Politics newspaper and an international relations specialist, concurs.

“The Russian announcement of construction of the Dabaa plant at this time, which comes in tandem with the passage of 100 days since the outbreak of the Ukrainian war, is evidence of the existence of a common political will between the two countries to implement all projects and agreements signed in all fields, whether with regard to the Dabaa plant or with the Russian industrial zone in the Suez Canal, which would boost development in Egypt,” Samir told Al-Monitor.

“Cairo and Moscow will continue to cooperate in the future. Egypt is able to forge balanced relations with all global powers, despite its cooperation with Russia. It also maintains qualitative and strategic relations with the United States as well as with the European Union and China,” he added.