The dream of owning nuclear energy has been dreaming of Egypt since the 1960s. But he was exposed to many obstacles for political, regional and other economic reasons, supported by fears that increased after Chernobyl disaster in 1986, as well as the series of crises that faced the state after 2011. This continued until this July, when the Egyptian government began the first steps on the ground towards this dream; BConcrete pouring for the first nuclear unit in Dabaa.
In 2015, Egypt and Russia agreed to construct the El-Dabaa nuclear power plant, which consists of 4 nuclear reactors, with a total capacity of 4,800 megawatts divided equally by each unit, at a cost of between 25 and 30 billion dollars.
The 4,800 megawatts that this station will be able to generate poses a question that is the most important at the moment: How can the Egyptian government benefit from the electrical capabilities expected to be entered from the El Dabaa project in light of the current surplus in the national grid, estimated at 20%? This is in addition to the legitimate question about the possible impact of sanctions imposed on Russia – due to its war on Ukraine – on the timetable for implementing the project.
Journey to the construction permission of the Dabaa station
On June 30, Egypt formally agreed to grant Permission to create the first unit The nuclear power plant in El-Dabaa, which is cooperating with Russia in its implementation. This is after it received an application for permission to establish the first and second units in January 2019.
Within two years, the Nuclear Power Plants Authority completed its procedures; By submitting the initial safety analysis report for the first and second units from January 2021 until the end of June of the same year.
The Nuclear and Radiological Regulatory Authority stated that it had taken the necessary measures to verify the availability of the maximum levels of safety for this nuclear project. This is in accordance with the highest international standards, and by qualifying the authority’s staff to implement the review and evaluation process through the capacity building program. It included the development of review methods and techniques for each chapter of the Initial Safety Analysis Report, in accordance with IAEA publications, and standards applicable in Russia.
The results of the review and evaluation of documents were also sent to the Nuclear Power Plants Authority, which sent its response to the results. This was followed by an inspection visit to the station site to determine the readiness of the site to start construction.
According to the results of the audit and inspection, the safety of the first unit of the El-Dabaa nuclear power plant has been verified, and no risks to humans, the environment or property have been proven.
An imperative measure to start construction
The former deputy head of the Egyptian Nuclear Power Plants Authority, Ali Abdel Nabi, explained to “Egypt 360” that granting permission to establish the first unit ofStation Nuclear energy is an “important measure towards starting the construction of the plant.” He believes that the project is proceeding according to an agreed timetable between the Egyptian and Russian sides.
He says that the project has not seen a delay in the procedures so far; The steps taken on the ground, in light of the current situation related to the Russian-Ukrainian war, indicate the commitment of the Russian side to the timetable for implementing the project.
The operation of “Al Dabaa” .. a delay of up to 4 more years
In early July, the company announcedRosatomThe Russian Government for Nuclear Energy has begun production of equipment for the first Egyptian nuclear power plant in El-Dabaa, in conjunction with the visit of a high-level Egyptian delegation to Moscow.
The contracts signed between Egypt and Russia entered into force in 2017. According to them, the Russian side is committed to building the station and supplying it with nuclear fuel, in addition to training, support and work to provide services for the station over the first 10 years of its operation. In addition to building a facility for storing spent nuclear fuel.
The Egyptian presidency had announced that it is expected to enter the first unit With a capacity of 1200 megawatts, service in 2024. But after delays that extended for years, the start-up phase is scheduled to be extended to 2028.
The former deputy head of the Egyptian Nuclear Power Plants Authority, Ali Abdel Nabi, justifies this delay in operation by saying that the implementation of the project has many dimensions and stages that must be passed first. As “nuclear projects are not implemented with absolute statements, but according to systematic and studied plans and programs so that the project is implemented with the highest levels of safety.” Therefore, the date of implementation of the Dabaa plant has been modified to 2028.
Is the project affected by Russia’s sanctions?
Despite the steps taken by the Egyptian and Russian sides regarding the start of the actual construction phase of the project. However, it comes in difficult circumstances that Russia and Egypt are going through. The first suffers from extensive Western sanctions due to its war on Ukraine, while Egypt is going through a major economic crisis at the level of the dollar’s rise after the recent interest rate increase. As a result of the lack of resources in foreign currency.
Abu Bakr al-Deeb, an economist, said in his interview with “Egypt 360” that any project such as this huge project needs years of preparation. Especially in light of the crises the world is going through, especially Russia, which is funding the project.
Russia is financing about 85% of the cost of the Dabaa nuclear plant project, with a loan that Egypt will start repaying in October 2029, and in semi-annual installments over 22 years, and an interest of 3%. This may impose a delay on the implementation of the project, according to Al-Deeb. As the funding country (Russia) is going through difficult financial conditions as a result of the sanctions. Here, Russia may work to achieve goals that increase its economic power globally to meet the challenges of America and the European Union, such as supporting oil and natural gas projects. However, the rest of the expensive projects will be delayed a little.
Electricity produced in Egypt
In about 6 years, Egypt witnessed strenuous efforts to increase electricity production, following the worst wave of frequent power outages between 2011 and 2014.
These efforts brought the total electricity production at the beginning of 2021 to about 55-58 thousand megawatts. At a time, consumption ranged from 24 to 28 thousand megawatts during the winter months, and 30 to 32 thousand megawatts during the summer (peak consumption), according to Ahmed Mohaina, head of the strategic planning sector at the Ministry of Electricity, to “Egypt 360.”
Egypt has invested huge money in the field of electricity with the aim of solving its chronic problem with the production deficit. It has ranged between 2-3 gigawatts since 2008, and reached 6 gigawatts in 2014. Therefore, the government adopted a national emergency plan that sought to add 3.6 gigawatts with investments of $7.2 billion.
It also accelerated the construction of 3 giant combined cycle power plants. With a total capacity of 14.4 gigawatts. In addition to renewable energy projects, most notably the Benban solar energy field, which has a total capacity of 1.8 gigawatts, according to Muhaina.
The production reached the barrier of 58 thousand megawatts per day, achieving a surplus of about 20: 25%.
Until the beginning of 2020, the Ministry of Electricity was able to add more than 28 thousand megawatts of electricity through 27 new stations – without calculating the Benban complex – which is equivalent to 13 times the production of the Aswan High Dam.
Wael Al-Nashar, an expert in electricity and energy, explains, in his talk to “Egypt 360”, how electricity production projects have caused wastage of generated energy. He says that these huge projects implemented by the Ministry of Electricity at the level of electricity generation transformed the state from the stage of total energy deficit to achieving self-sufficiency, and then achieving a good surplus that was supposed to be exploited to achieve a dollar return for the state instead of wasting it.
He adds that the surplus in electricity production has not yet been exploited. The government was building high hopes for the success of the interconnection project with Sudan to expand and penetrate electrically into Africa by exporting energy to central and southern countries. But she couldn’t do that until 2022.
The electricity generation projects came at the expense of the electricity transmission infrastructure. Especially since the projects were implemented in record time to meet the urgent needs of Egypt. But it relied on old transmission networks that are only able to contain capacities that do not exceed 32,000 megawatts of total production, according to Al-Nashar.
He believes that it was supposed to expand the development of transmission networks and replace the old ones with new voltage networks in order to be able to absorb the energies that the government aims to generate to eliminate the deficit. And that what happened was the opposite and caused the waste of huge capabilities. The government did not realize this until a later period, he said.
How can I benefit from the Dabaa station?
The El Dabaa project is expected to cover 10% of Egypt’s energy needs after its completion. According to government estimates, electricity consumption rates will rise to more than 40 gigawatts when the plant is fully operational, compared to about 30 gigawatts currently.
Abu Bakr al-Deeb, an economist, says that the implementation of the Dabaa plant comes at a time when Egypt has achieved a comfortable surplus in electricity after working on two tracks since 2014; The first is to gradually lift energy subsidies until the subsidy reached zero in the 2019-2020 budget, and the second is to pump billions of dollars into the construction of new power stations.
He explains this step, despite the surplus in electric power, as “an urgent need imposed by planning for the future for future generations. In light of the increasing population on the one hand, and the need for energy with the expansion of development projects.”
He explains that the expansion of the electrical interconnection lines currently planned will require, during the next five years, large production capacities – including the Dabaa project – to allow the expansion of the export of electricity to a number of neighboring countries, whether in Africa through Libya and Sudan, or in Asia through a project The link with Saudi Arabia is currently being implemented.
We need to stimulate electricity trade among Arabs
The former head of the New and Renewable Energy Authority, Dr. Mohamed Salah El-Sobky, sees the need to stimulate electricity trade between Arab countries. It creates a unified network linking all countries. In order to achieve the maximum possible benefit from the generated capacities and the possibility of exporting them to the maximum point.
He told “Egypt 360” that the reserve of electrical capacities – including the Dabaa project – gives a positive image of investment in Egypt. Especially since any investor or factory that will demand electricity will be delivered to him immediately. Therefore, it is necessary to expand the establishment of industrial zones and supply them with surplus electricity to exploit the wasted capacities and achieve a good dollar return for the state’s general budget.
El-Sobky adds that Egypt can exploit the surplus production – after entering the Dabaa units – to develop old stations with high fuel consumption. This supports the country’s ability to transform into a regional center for the export of electric power to neighboring countries.
He clarifies that the sector is now working to strengthen the electricity transmission and distribution network in light of the production capacities expected to be added in the coming years. As well as increasing the use of renewable energy. Which requires a large and flexible electrical network on all efforts, to prevent the aggravation of wasted electricity.
Nuclear energy and green hydrogen support
According to Dr. Ahmed Mahina, Head of the Strategic Planning Sector at the Ministry of Electricity, the nuclear power plants that have been started will serve the country’s shift towards expanding green hydrogen projects. It mainly relies on clean energy – and does not depend entirely on energy generated from fossil fuels – in the operation of green ammonia and hydrogen production projects.
Egypt will have double the capacity of energy produced from clean sources – around 6,000 megawatts currently. It reinforces the government’s orientation towards sustainable development and reliance on green energy. This is in line with the government’s strategy towards supporting climate issues and reducing carbon emissions. Therefore, the transition to nuclear energy, despite its high cost, is an inevitable step towards diversifying energy sources.
Mohaina believes that Egypt’s enjoyment of generating electricity from nuclear reactors helps it transform into an energy center through electrical interconnection with neighboring countries. In addition, it is cheaper – in the long run – and cleaner energy, as it is carbon-neutral.
Egypt seeks to be a pivotal center for energy through electrical interconnection projects with Arab, African and European countries. Its geographical location and its competitive advantages and disadvantages help it. In addition to the daily reserve in the national electricity grid. As well as increasing production from renewable energy. As well as gas discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean. In a way that enhances economic growth and consolidates Egypt’s international relations.
criticism and concerns
Despite the advantages that the government seeks to gain from the Dabaa project, there are criticisms and concerns about safety. Where talk about radioactive waste. But the Nuclear Power Plants Authority says that the design of the Russian reactor is characterized by taking all safety precautions that would reduce environmental impacts to the lowest level. This is done by taking into account advanced security systems.
There is also a concern about cost, as nuclear power may not be the most effective method compared to others. The Dabaa plant is too expensive and cost-effective – between $25-30 billion – compared to other energy projects that Egypt has recently implemented. Thus, the project will increase pressure on the foreign exchange reserves of the Central Bank during the period of repayment of the Russian loan, according to Ramadan Abul-Ela, an energy expert for “Egypt 360.”
The debate over the risks versus benefits of nuclear energy is commonplace in all nuclear states around the world. Because of what is always rumored about the dangers associated with implementing nuclear plants. Especially in countries that are adopting these projects for the first time.