Dabaa, a small town on Egypt’s North Coast in the Marsa Matrouh governorate, drew worldwide attention when it was announced it would become the site of Egypt’s first nuclear power plant.
Along with the announcement came news of a development boom as numerous housing and other urban and tourist development projects were set in motion to serve the new nuclear power station and the new Dabaa city that is growing up around it. There are many new mushrooming businesses and industries, foremost among them tourism.
Hussein Kamel, former head of Dabaa city, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the area is now home to some 65 tourist villages along the 80km coastal strip of the Mediterranean. Many major infrastructure projects had been launched to develop and expand the electricity grid, provide safe and efficient sewerage and waste disposal, produce potable water, and facilitate transport and communications, he said.
Other projects are catering to the social and cultural needs of the local people. Many major projects have already been completed, such as a large stretch of the Rod Al-Farag-Dabaa Axis, a Nuclear Energy College, portions of the new residential district, and other projects designed to equip the area for the new nuclear power plant and its workforce.
The government has allocated around LE400,000 to the municipality to purchase lighting fixtures, and 13 villages in the district have been equipped with transformers and street lights, Kamel said, meaning that all the streets are now lit at night.
More than 4.7km of roads have been paved in the district including in the villages. In addition to 875m of road in the Galala village, the 2.5km Foka road, one of the main roads in Dabaa itself, has now been newly paved. There are also plans, soon to be approved by the Armed Forces, to construct new gateways to Dabaa on the main roads into the town and its main streets. Other beautification projects include a new children’s park and leisure centre near the town’s main entrance, 50 per cent of the work on which has been completed.
The municipality is also coordinating with other authorities on the highway beautification project along the coastal road from Marsa Matrouh to Alexandria, with a special focus on landscaping, gardens and greenery.
Proper waste disposal is a crucial aspect of modern urban planning, and Kamel explained that ongoing sanitation drives had been organised to ensure the safe and efficient disposal of local garbage. The municipality has selected a suitable site for a landfill facility far removed from the local communities, and it has also introduced ordinances to ensure that the tourist villages dispose of waste at the landfill.
In order to serve the town’s growing population, there is now a community hall to host public meetings on issues of concern to Dabaa residents and to serve as a forum for their concerns. The construction of the centre has cost LE2.9 million. The construction of the new Dabaa branch of the National Bank of Egypt has also been completed at a cost of LE1.5 million.
Dabaa Nuclear Energy College
THE DABAA NUCLEAR POWER PLANT: The new Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant is Egypt’s first nuclear power plant.
On 19 November 2015, Egypt and Russia signed the preliminary contracts for the construction and financing of the project, and two years later, in November 2017, the two countries signed the contracts to build four VVER-1200 nuclear reactors. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and Russian President Vladimir Putin were present at the signing ceremony.
Russia will fund about 85 per cent of the $28.75 billion project, with interest of three per cent being payable annually immediately after Egypt receives the first instalment of the loan, repayable over a period of 22 years. Egypt will raise the remaining 15 per cent of the cost of the project from private investors.
The main construction of the new plant is expected to take seven years. The first of the four reactors at the site is expected to go into operation in 2026, and the other three will follow in the course of the next two years.
Each reactor is capable of generating 1.2 GW of electricity, and it is expected that the new plant will cover about 10 per cent of Egypt’s electricity needs by 2027 and that this will gradually increase to 30 per cent by 2050.
Dabaa residential district
THE NUCLEAR ENERGY COLLEGE: The first of its kind in the Middle East, a new Dabaa Nuclear Energy College is preparing to open its doors to its third class of students in September as a feeder institution to the new nuclear power plant.
Some 75 students are selected each year, and there will be 75 in the class of 2019/2020, 30 from the Matrouh governorate and 45 from other governorates, primarily Gharbiya, Damietta and Sohag.
According to Samir Al-Nili, a senior education official in Matrouh, the educational training programme offered by the new college lasts five years and includes modules on mechanics, electronics and electricity, the three basic disciplines involved in the production of nuclear energy. The college stands on an eight-acre site and consists of nine buildings, the main one housing 15 classrooms capable of accommodating 25 students. Other buildings house administrative offices as well as biology, chemistry, physics and computer labs.
There is a football field and a multipurpose recreation area for basketball, badminton and squash, as well as an amphitheatre. There are also two dorms for students in the grounds, and a public-sector company supervises janitorial, security and hygiene services.
“In five years’ time, the Dabaa Nuclear Energy College will have a student body of 375 students,” Al-Nili said. To qualify for admission, an applicant must have above a 90 per cent score on exams in English, mathematics and sciences, and an overall score of 250 points on the entrance exams. Al-Nili said that when it first opened, the college had received 1,870 applications for admission and the following year 1,700. For the forthcoming term, there had been 4,000 applications, he said.
Every year, a further 200 candidates are selected from across the country. In addition to their academic qualifications, they must also pass medical and psychological tests, supply a certificate of good character, and both their parents must be Egyptian nationals.
The college was established in accordance with Decree 374/2015, which allocated a 33,600 m2 plot of land for the construction of an “advanced technical training school in energy technology” in Dabaa. The facility was built at the cost of LE70 million, broken down into LE43.5 million for the main building, LE7.8 million for the classrooms, and LE1.5 million for the labs and workshops. Anti-radiation labs and workshops cost another LE12.75 million.
Although the students are currently bussed to and from Alexandria, there are two four-storey dorms with a total capacity of 436 beds. There are also plenty of green spaces as well as an open-air theatre.
In keeping with the state-of-the-art vision of the facility, maximum use is made of solar energy. Solar panels power an electricity generating facility capable of producing 130 KW on grid. Street lights, other outdoor lighting fixtures, and many internal lighting fixtures are powered by solar cells.
Many graduates from the college, which first opened its doors to students in 2016, are likely to find employment in the nearby nuclear power plant after a period of additional training. Al-Nili said that the curriculum covered “electronics, electricity, mechanics, radioactivity safeguards, and the maintenance of nuclear plant parts and systems”.
Graduates will be equipped with a broad range of skills and know-how, including a thorough familiarity with nuclear technology and radioactivity safeguards, the ability to diagnose and repair flaws in electronic apparatus and electrical and mechanical equipment, and familiarity with the components and operations of nuclear power stations.
Dabaa sewage project
THE DABAA HOSPITAL: There are also other new facilities being built in Dabaa, including a LE84 million project to upgrade the Dabaa Central Hospital.
This includes the construction of new buildings and departments and the installation of new equipment and other furnishings, increasing the hospital’s capacity to 50 beds and adding new departments and units such as a radiology department, an outpatient clinic, labs, pharmacies and an emergency section.
According to Mustafa Shaaban, the hospital director, the facility now has a dialysis unit with five machines, a unit for premature children with six incubators, and a new multipurpose operating theatre. The maternity and obstetrics ward has been upgraded to better accommodate new developments in this branch of medicine.
The construction work was spread out over a number of phases so that operations at the hospital could proceed normally, Shaaban said. After the work had been completed, the hospital’s total space had increased by 1,500 m2, he said. The Matrouh Directorate of Public Health is currently studying whether to add a radiotherapy department to the hospital or to build a separate radiotherapy institute.
To the west of the nuclear energy plant and not far from the upgraded hospital there is the new Dabaa Residential City, constructed by the Armed Forces Engineering Authority on a 2,380-acre plot of land with a 2km long seafront and extending inland for about 5km.
Fully equipped with services and utilities, from a police station, fire department, sanitation unit, school and mosque to a 5,000-ton reservoir, the city also has two sewerage treatment stations and an electricity transmission station built by the Beheira Electricity Company.
The construction work was divided into two phases, the first for 1,500 homes in Bedouin style for people whose land and homes had been appropriated for the nuclear project. In the second phase, work will begin on another 234 buildings that will house rest houses and homes for employees at the nuclear plant. The project as a whole will cost around LE1 billion.
The new Rod Al-Farag - Dabaa Axis
ELECTRICITY PRODUCTION: The Ministry of Electricity has finished the construction of the electricity transformer station at Dabaa and installed the first of two 220kV to 66kV transformers, the first with a capacity of 40 Megawatts and the second with a capacity of 25 Megawatts, at a cost of LE100 million.
Former governor of Matrouh Alaa Abu Zeid had approved the LE3.2 million project to construct the new transformer station on the site of the nuclear plant in collaboration with the Beheira Electricity Company. The output of the transformers will serve the new residential city and the plant, and it will also link up to Dabaa itself and its suburbs using two 6km electricity lines.
Elsewhere, the new Dabaa sewerage project is being carried out by the National Authority for Potable Water and Sewerage at a cost of LE325 million, up from the LE185 million originally budgeted.
The work began in August 2016 and includes two lifting stations and two 16mm diameter discharge pipes totalling 17.5km in length, meaning that the treatment station will be capable of handling 7,000 m3 of wastewater a day. The project as a whole will include 124km of sloping sewerage pipes and four 28km discharge lines. The facility will serve the local residential communities and also local villages.
Integrated treatment units are included with capacities from 300 m3 to 1,000 m3 per day at a cost of around LE80 million.
THE DABAA-ROD AL-FARAG AXIS: This new axis will link Cairo to Matrouh through a six-lane highway beginning at Al-Khalafawi Square near the Corniche in Cairo and proceeding westward over Warraq Island in the direction of Sheikh Zayed City.
After intersecting with the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road just north of Sheikh Zayed, it will continue westward until it intersects with the Regional Ring Road, after which it will shift northwest towards Dabaa.
Construction was planned in three phases, with a first 39km stretch from the Alexandria Desert Road to the Cairo Ring Road, a second 39km stretch from the Alexandria Desert Road to the Regional Ring Road, and a third segment from the Cairo Ring Road to Al-Khalafawi Square and then to the Shobra area of Cairo.
The entire length of the road when complete will be around 380km. Twenty-two contracting companies from both the public and private sectors have contributed to its construction, and its total cost is about LE5 billion.
The Rod Al-Farag Bridge, also known as Tahya Masr, at the starting point of the new road is a landmark in itself. The 65-metre-wide bridge, which crosses the Nile to Warraq Island, will be featured in the Guinness Book of World Records when it is finished as the widest suspension bridge in the world.
Once the Rod Al-Farag Axis project is complete, it will be possible to travel from the eastern districts of Cairo to the Alexandria Desert Road without having to pass through central Cairo. It will also be possible to travel eastwards all the way from Dabaa and other destinations on the North Coast through Al-Khalafawi to a link-up leading to the Red Sea.
THE HOUSE OF CULTURE: Originally established in 1985, the Dabaa House of Culture started out as a department of the local Social Affairs Directorate.
It has since been relocated and developed, and there are hopes that the current 330 m2 of the facility can be expanded into a cultural place. Land next to the current premises belongs to the municipality, so there could be options for a larger building on an area of around 700 m2.
According to the House of Culture’s director, the facility offers many cultural activities in diverse literary, musical and artistic disciplines. There are poetry evenings, lectures on literature, religious events, art classes for children, cultural contests with prizes and other cultural activities. All activities are free of charge to residents of the Matrouh governorate.
All age groups can take part in the activities organised by the House of Culture. However, according to the director, these are most popular among school children from elementary to secondary school age, or to university students. LE235,000 has been allocated for the current construction of the House of Culture as part of the Dabaa cultural development plan.
Elsewhere, a new water desalinisation plant is under construction in Dabaa to supply potable water to the district, Matrouh Governor Magdi Al-Gharabli told the Weekly. The plant, which will be linked to the desalination plant east of the nuclear power plant, will be able to produce 40,000 m3 of fresh water a day in its initial phase and will cost around LE1 billion.
A new Technology Centre had already been constructed to serve the residents of Dabaa, Al-Gharabli added. In operation since October 2018, this houses a computer lab and offers computer-training courses to the public free-of-charge. A petroleum company has collaborated with the municipality in this effort.
Al-Husseini Ahmed Senoussi, the director of the Matrouh governorate’s Investment Authority and a former mayor of Dabaa, told the Weekly that the governorate was continually receiving requests from entrepreneurs to invest in the area, often to build new tourist villages because of the city’s prime location on the North Coast overlooking the Mediterranean.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 September, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.