Egypt, Russia expected to finalize nuclear deal

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sissi shake hands during a meeting in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia. (AP file)
Updated 10 December 2017

Egypt, Russia expected to finalize nuclear deal

CAIRO: Egypt is expected to finalize contracts for its first nuclear power plant during a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin starting Monday.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi will sign the contracts with Putin, according to senior sources quoted by Reuters.

As per an agreement in 2015, Russia will finance and operate the plant in El-Dabaa, west of Alexandria.

Two large Russian nuclear power reactors with significant desalination capacity will be built. Russia is extending a loan to Egypt to cover the cost of construction.

Egypt’s official gazette last year said the loan was worth $25 billion, and would finance 85 percent of the value of each work contract, services and equipment shipping. Egypt would fund the remaining 15 percent.

Representatives from Russia’s State Atomic Energy Corp. Rosatom and Russian universities reportedly visited major Egyptian universities recently to explore means of employing Egyptians at the plant.

Egypt has wanted a nuclear plant since the 1960s, but for various reasons — including foreign political pressure and few energy shortages at the time — the plans were shelved.

But after several delays, Egypt and Russia agreed in 2015 that the latter would fund the project.

The deal commits the two countries to building a nuclear power station that will start operating in 2022 and satisfy about half of Egypt’s energy needs, officials said.

According to several studies, El-Dabaa is the most suitable location because it is less prone to earthquakes and has suitable weather conditions and groundwater movement, as well as sea currents and tides, Al-Ahram newspaper reported.

With a population of nearly 104 million and vast energy needs, Egypt wants to diversify its energy sources, said Saeed Sadek, professor of political sociology.

“Given Egypt’s booming population, and the impact Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam is expected to have on Egypt’s water resources when it starts operating, the need for this nuclear project is more significant today,” he told Arab News, adding that Russia is eager to boost its presence in the Middle East.

“The project has a chance, but it will face challenges from the EU, which had said on several occasions that it’s unhappy to witness a Russian nuclear plant in Egypt,” Sadek said.

Middle East expert Justin Dargin from Oxford University told Arab News: “Egypt has a real chance to move forward with this development as it has already established vast human resources in engineering and technology.”

He added: “Egypt has often exported this talent to other Arab countries. With Russia's assistance, Egypt would certainly be able to construct El-Dabaa.”

But there are public concerns over how the country will be able to secure the plant given the current instability.

“It’s always a difficult issue to secure nuclear material. Even developed countries such as the US and UK have had incidents with their nuclear plants,” said Dargin.

“Egypt would have to be extra cautious with its nuclear facilities as they could be targeted by extremist groups,” he added.

“In 2012 there was a theft of nuclear material at El-Dabaa, so the government would have to reassure the public that it has the highest safely protocols there.”

Iran threatens ‘less secure’ shipping lanes if US halts oil exports

Updated 12 min 23 sec ago

Iran threatens ‘less secure’ shipping lanes if US halts oil exports

  • The ominous comments by the president and foreign minister come after months of attacks on vessels near the Strait of Hormuz
  • President Rouhani says unilateral pressure against Iran won't guarantee security

JEDDAH: Iran ramped up its threats against shipping on Wednesday, warning that international waterways can not be secure if the regime’s oil exports are halted by sanctions.

The ominous comments by the president and foreign minister come after months of attacks on vessels near the Strait of Hormuz, through which around one fifth of the world’s oil supplies are transported.

Iran has seized tankers and been blamed for sabotaging ships in response to tough sanctions from the US over the regime’s nuclear program and aggressive policies in the Middle East.

“World powers know that in the case that oil is completely sanctioned and Iran's oil exports are brought down to zero, international waterways can't have the same security as before,”  President Hassan Rouhani said while meeting Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “So unilateral pressure against Iran can't be to their advantage and won't guarantee their security in the region and the world.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif added to concern over Iran’s future behavior, by saying Tehran might act "unpredictably" in response to "unpredictable" US policies under President Donald Trump.

"Mutual unpredictability will lead to chaos," Zarif said.

Washington ramped up an economic boycott of Iran after Trump last year withdrew from a deal between Tehran and international powers to curb its nuclear program in response to an easing of sanctions.

The sanctions have targeted critical sections of the Iranian economy, in particular its oil exports which have been drastically reduced. 

But the attacks on shipping near and inside the Arabian Gulf have rattled the major crude importers, particularly in Asia.

In response, the US is building maritime coalition to protect vessels transiting the Strait of Hormuz between the Arabian Sea and Gulf. The UK, Bahrain and Australia are among those who have signed up.

Iran, predictably, has already warned against the alliance. Iranian Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, a deputy commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards, said no one can secure the Gulf other than Iran and countries of the region, according to the Fars news agency.

*With Reuters