After seven years of preparations and negotiations, Egypt’s Dabaa nuclear plant is finally getting off the ground. On 20 July, Russia’s nuclear engineering company Rosatom began laying the first concrete foundations for the plant, kicking off an eight-year construction process that is expected to see it operating by 2030 or 2031.
The Dabaa site is located on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast, 320 km northwest of Cairo and 170 km west of Alexandria.
Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy Mohamed Shaker said the laying of the first concrete foundations represents a first step towards achieving Egypt’s nuclear power ambitions.
Dabaa’s four reactors, added Shaker, fully comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) safety measurements and “can withstand earthquakes, airplane crashes, explosions, and even tsunamis”.
Amgad Al-Wakil, chair of the Nuclear Power Plants Authority (NPPA), explained that the project will comprise four 1.2 MW reactors, costing around $30 billion, financed through a $25 billion loan from Russia and 15 per cent from the Egyptian treasury. Egypt will begin repaying the Russian loan by 2029 at an interest rate of three per cent.
“For the first and second reactors, Egypt’s financial contribution will be 20-25 per cent, and for the third and fourth it will rise to 30-35 per cent,” said Al-Wakil.
“The lifespan of the four reactors is estimated to be 100 years, and they will produce nine per cent of Egypt’s overall electricity needs once operational.”
Construction of the plant began after the Egyptian Nuclear and Radiological Regulatory Authority (ENRRA) announced on 29 June that it had granted the necessary permits to commence building work.
“Preparations for this step have been ongoing since February 2020 when three Egyptian companies — Petrojet, Hassan Allam, and Arab Contractors — were awarded the contract to make ready the construction site,” said Al-Wakil.
Alexey Likhachov, director-general of Rosatom, the Russian state-owned nuclear engineering company in charge of implementing the Dabaa project, said “the construction launch at Dabaa means that Egypt has already joined the nuclear club,” adding that is the largest example of Russian-Egyptian cooperation since the Aswan High Dam in the 1960s.
“Having its own nuclear energy industry has been a dream for the Egyptian people for more than half a century, and it is a great honour for Rosatom to help make this dream come true,” he said.
Likhachev revealed that the contract stipulates that Rosatom will finance and build the Dabaa plant, supply Russian uranium to fuel it, begin a 10-year training programme for Egyptian engineers who will run the reactors, and build a storage facility for nuclear fuel.
“Dabaa will be the first nuclear power plant of this generation in Africa, the second reactor on the continent, and will serve to secure Egypt’s regional technological leadership.”
Rosatom will also help with the maintenance of the plant for the first decade of operation, and is contracted to supply Dabaa with nuclear fuel throughout the reactors’ life.
Al-Wakil said the Dabaa project represents a central plank of Egypt’s long-term policy to diversify energy resources and invest in clean and renewable energy.
Negotiations between Egypt and Russia on building a nuclear power station started in 2015. In 2017, during a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Cairo, Russia and Egypt signed a formal agreement on the construction of the four-reactor 4,800 megawatt plant.
“The coronavirus pandemic caused some delay to the project, but we have now compensated for this and construction is currently on schedule,” said Shaker.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 July, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.