Inside Egypt’s first nuclear school

Dozens of students are set to start their training at Egypt’s new technical school for peaceful nuclear technology in El Dabaa, which some see as useless given the high number of technical schools spread across the country.

al-monitor Illustration by Ed Woodhouse/Al-Monitor.
Rami Galal

Rami Galal


Topics covered


Dec 3, 2017

CAIRO — El Dabaa Atomic Technical School, which is the first of its kind in Egypt, admitted 75 students on Nov. 19 to officially start studying in its temporary headquarters at the Advanced Technical School for Maintenance Technology in Madinat Nasr. The school will be training students at the Nuclear Power Plants Authority (NPPA) and the Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority (EAEA).

After the first semester, the students will then move to the permanent headquarters in El Dabaa city, Matrouh governorate, to attend the second semester in March. The school’s objective is to form a new generation of technicians trained on the latest technologies used in managing and operating nuclear plants. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is behind the creation of the school, which will be officially inaugurated during the second semester in March after student dorms and teachers’ facilities are completed.

Sameer el-Neely, the deputy minister of education in Matrouh, told Al-Monitor that the Egyptian dream to establish the El Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant requires a disciplined, committed and highly skilled as well as well-trained labor force. Therefore, the political leadership made the decision to establish the school so that graduates would directly join work at the El Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant.

In February 2015, Sisi and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin signed an agreement to establish two nuclear power plants to generate electricity in El Dabaa. The first plant is expected to start operating in 2019, while the construction of Egypt’s first nuclear reactor will be completed and start operating in 2025.

According to Neely, to apply to the school, students must have an elementary school certificate with a minimum admission score of 220 out of 300 for students from Matrouh and 250 for students from other governorates — the state’s recognition for Matrouh citizens who voluntarily gave up the land for the state to build the reactor. Students must have scored at least 95% in mathematics, English and science, as well as have a good command of computer skills. They must also pass the medical examination at the education directorate.

Neely noted that there is a personal qualities exam that covers creative thinking and intelligence and is verified by the Military Technical College, as well as a personal interview. Out of 1,876 students, 75 were selected into the first class.

“The study program is for five years, and the syllabi are different from those taught at other technical schools, as they were put together by a number of experts who took two years to design the program. The teaching staff was chosen out of the best teachers holding bachelor’s degrees in engineering, science, education and industrial education, provided that the applicants for teaching posts held an excellent total grade at least in the last two years, as well as have a good command of English and computer skills,” Neely added.

Neely explained that establishing the school cost about 70 million Egyptian pounds ($4 million), which was covered by government funding. It was built on 8 feddans (8.3 acres) to include nine main buildings, 15 classrooms, three workshops equipped with the latest mechanical, electronic and electric technologies, simulation training units and mock-ups of reactors inside the El Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant. The school also includes playgrounds, a gym, theaters, a 400-bed dormitory for students and a hotel-like hall of residence for teachers.

Neely said the school’s tuition hasn’t been specified yet.

Egyptian scientist and former NPPA Vice President Aly Abdel Naby told Al-Monitor the school will have three departments: mechanics, electricity and electronics, which are the same departments in all technical schools of Egypt. Therefore, he said, the state has wasted the historic chance to upgrade already existing technical schools, which could have created a competition between all 1 million technical students in Egypt’s 947 technical schools in the three majors. The nuclear dream would have been used as a means to upgrade these schools through developing the laboratories and workshops then choosing the top graduates of these schools and enrolling them in a course on nuclear energy, radiation, radiation effects and radiation safety instead of costing the government the financial burdens of a hotel-like stay for students and teachers, he explained.

“The title of a ‘graduate in technical nuclear energy’ will harm the graduate, as they will not find job opportunities. El Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant includes four reactors each of which would produce 1,200 megawatts and the maximum capacity to operate the plant is 480 workers consisting of engineers, technicians and administrative employees. Thus, if the state hires [students] from 10 classes, what fate then befalls the rest of the classes? Therefore, manipulating terminologies will harm the students as their actual major would be either mechanics, electricity or electronics. The best example is when the nuclear engineering department was established in the faculty of engineering in Alexandria University in 1963. We had graduates but not job opportunities, forcing the faculty to change the department’s title in 2004 into the nuclear and radiation engineering department so that students would find job opportunities,” Abdel Naby said.

Abdel Naby called upon officials to develop the existing technical schools and connect them with the labor market in all disciplines such as motor vehicles, printing and textiles without reinventing the wheel and manipulating terminologies or the future of students.

Lawmaker and member of the parliament’s Education Committee Magda Nasr told Al-Monitor, “The school's objective is to change society’s negative perception of technical education, as society underestimates technical school graduates as opposed to high school graduates. The state has succeeded in such objectives, as a large number of valedictorian students are now attracted to enroll in the school.”

Nasr said, “The poor conditions of workshops, the perished laboratories in current schools and their lack of discipline have made the establishment of El Dabaa school a necessity in order to supply the nuclear plant with Egyptian technicians.”

Nasr noted that El Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant is the first of its kind in Egypt, but it will not be the last, and that graduates of this school will be in demand by Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, which started to follow in Egypt’s footsteps in the field of establishing nuclear plants.

Former EAEA head Ezzat Abdel Aziz told Al-Monitor that El Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant is an expensive self-safe, third-generation technology nuclear reactor that needs qualified top-level technical staff to operate it as well as to deal with the fuel waste such as uranium which, upon combustion, produces plutonium-239, which can be used as fuel for atomic bombs and military industries. Therefore, dealing with nuclear plants requires special treatment on the part of technicians who must be carefully trained.

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