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.”