WNISR, 20 July 2022
Construction of Egypt’s first nuclear power plant has officially started on 20 July 2022 at El-Dabaa city, governorate of Matrouh. The VVER-1200 reactor of Russian design is the first of four such units to be built by Rosatom at the El-Dabaa site, located on the north-west coast of Egypt, by the Mediterranean Sea.
Egypt’s nuclear ambitions stem back to the mid-1950s, and the Dabaa site was first selected to host a nuclear facility in the early 1980s. The latest attempts to revive Egypt’s nuclear program eventually lead to agreements between Russia and Egypt in 2015. The Egyptian public entity Nuclear Power Plants Authority (NPPA), owner and future operator of the 4.8 GW plant, secured a site permit in 2019. Based on the contracts signed with NPPA, Rosatom will assist Egypt in training personnel and carrying out maintenance work during the plant’s first 10 years of operation, supply fuel for the plant’s entire planned operating life and provide spent fuel management equipment and infrastructure—among which a storage facility onsite for which a site permit was issued in February 2022.
El-Dabaa, construction work starts at Egypt’s first nuclear power reactor - Photo: NPPA
The project has suffered additional delays in recent years. In 2021, these delays were said to be caused by Covid-19, later Egyptian Minister of Electricity and Renewable Energy claimed the project was never impacted by the pandemic. July 2021 reports state, the delays were “due to underlying tension in relations with Russia”. Apparently, these problems were overcome, in spite of Russia’s war against Ukraine and the active role of Rosatom staff in the hostile occupation of the Zaporizhzhia nuclear power plant.
The construction permit for Unit 1 was granted by the Egyptian Nuclear and Radiological Regulatory Authority (ENRRA) on 29 June 2022, one year after applications for Units 1 and 2 were filed. Applications for Units 3 and 4 were submitted on 30 December 2021. No information on the current status or progress made in the review process of the three pending applications is available at this time.
When the contracts were first signed, Unit 1 was to be commissioned in 2026, and subsequent units by 2028, but latest announcements provide for the startup of Unit 1 in 2028 and full operation of the four units by 2030, prior announcements mentioned a 2031 completion date.
While Russian and Egyptian officials and industry executives have expressed their confidence on various occasions that the ongoing war in Ukraine would cause no disruption to their common venture, the project is likely to still be impacted by the sanctions imposed on Russia and supply difficulties, since the estimated US$30-billion project is heavily reliant on Russian financing, with about 85 percent of construction costs covered by a state-backed loan of US$25 billion.
In May 2022, the shelling and near-destruction by Russia of a manufacturing plant owned and operated on Ukrainian soil by a supplier of key components for Rosatom’s export projects, offers a blunt example of a different kind of potential disruptions in the supply chain: Russia destroying its own assets in Ukraine.
According to the Egyptian Government’s Energy Strategy, the plant is to provide 3 percent of the country’s electricity by 2035.
This brings the number of nuclear constructions currently implemented by the Russian industry to 21, of which 18 abroad, out of a total of 55 reactors under construction worldwide.