Will Russia become Egypt’s nuclear partner?

“We believe that energy security is a major part of building a future for the country, and an integral part of Egypt’s national security system,” thus spoke President Hosni Mubarak upon inaugurating an electricity power plant north of Cairo in September. Since President Mubarak announced that Egypt would tread the nuclear path to secure its every increasing energy needs, studies have been conducted to choose the right foreign partner which will cooperate in building Egypt’s first set of reactors.

Counting on a partner in the East, apparently, was the best choice available for Egypt, despite the fact that there have been many offers from Western countries, especially France and the U.S, to provide the necessary expertise required for the Egyptian nuclear program. In March, President Mubarak paid a visit to Moscow to seal a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin that enables Russia to bid for the construction of Egypt’s first atomic power station. The deal, which was signed by the head of Russia’s Rosatom nuclear energy agency, Sergei Kiriyenko, and Egyptian Energy Minister Hassan Younis, was signed at Putin’s residence outside Moscow.
After months of deliberations and negotiations, the agreement will allow Russia to bid in an international tender for a $1.5-1.8 billion reactor project on Egypt’s

Mediterranean coast, most likely in Al-Dabaa area. Reaching this all-important agreement, in fact, was not an easy mission, according to President Mubarak. “The deal was reached after difficult negotiations,” Mubarak told reporters upon signing the agreement. However, President-elect Dmitry Medvedev, who takes over the Kremlin from Putin this month expected a “productive partnership in the nuclear sphere.”

Many observes believe that sealing this deal with Egypt, Russia — which is close to completing Iran’s controversial first nuclear facility in Bushehr, and also recently signed a contract for a reactor in Bulgaria — seems determined to reestablish a commercial and diplomatic presence in the Middle East, as it was the case before the collapse of the Soviet Union in early 1990s. The region was a former stronghold of Soviet influence before the end of the Cold War era and the subsequent surge of US dominance over the entire world. The move, also, comes within the context of Putin’s desperate, and successful, attempts to restore Russia’s role as a key international player in international politics.

The deal, in fact, was not a surprise for many commentators. After all, the former Soviet Union was the first country to start cooperation with Egypt in the latter’s nuclear program in 1961, when it built its first two-megawatt nuclear center for research in the town of Inshass in Sharqiya governorate. Through Russia, Egypt began to acquire knowledge and expertise in the field of nuclear technology and trained its first nuclear technicians.
Subsequently, Egypt suspended its efforts for about two decades after the Chernobyl accident in 1986. At that point, it was about to issue an international tender to build a nuclear reactor for the production of electricity, but bowed to pressure from the US and the Soviet Union, worried about safety problems following that disaster, and therefore canceled its project.

Opting for the peaceful nuclear solution has become a must for Egypt. According to a UN report, the oil and gas reserves of Egypt will start to dwindle in 2016, while Egypt’s population will have exceeded the 100-million mark, thus requiring a lot of energy to produce electricity. Hence, Egypt quickly set down the basis for its peaceful nuclear program, announcing that it would be carried out under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in complete transparency.

Therefore, an IAEA delegation visited Egypt three months ago to look at alternative sites for the plants and advise Egypt on some of the technical and technological issues that should be observed before initiating the program. Also, an Egyptian delegation traveled to Vienna to present and tackle the draft law on nuclear energy it had prepared, which is expected to be submitted to the Egyptian Parliament in the coming few weeks.

By Mohamed El-Sayed



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