Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant: Questions about feasibility

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High-profile officials in Egypt’s ministry of electricity unveiled that the construction of Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant has been delayed by two years due to the COVID-19 crisis. Al-Mal News, an Egyptian newspaper, explained that, according to the schedule, the nuclear plant that was supposed to be finished in February 2028 will be put off until 2030. According to officials, who spoke to Al-Mal on the condition of anonymity, the Russian experts did not manage to visit the site due to COVID-19 and air traffic suspension.

Building a nuclear reactor is an old Egyptian dream that goes back to the 1950s. According to the website of Dabaa’s project, the idea was raised under President Mohamed Anwar Sadat, particularly in 1978, but the site of Dabaa, on the Mediterranean, was not decided on until 1983 under Mohamed Hosni Mubarak.

The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 led to the project being put off for 12 years before being resumed in 1999 with a feasibility field study. Studies were continued until 2007, when the decision was made to start building several nuclear reactors. In 2009, Egypt contracted with the Australian WorleyParsons Limited to be the consultant of the first nuclear plant, but the project stopped again with the 25 January Revolution in 2011 and Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.

In 2013, the project was resumed by the Egyptian Nuclear Power Plants Authority, which began quickly to rehabilitate the site and infrastructure in preparation for publishing a tinder to choose the contractor. In 2015, Egypt signed several deals with Russia to build and operate the first nuclear power plant in Egypt. Russian Rosatom was chosen to implement the project, which was to be financed with a $25 billion Russian loan to Egypt over 22 years starting from 2029 with a three per cent annual interest rate. In 2017, Cairo and Moscow signed a final deal during a great celebration in Cairo over the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant includes four pressurised water reactors with a capacity of 1,200 megawatts for every reactor. The reactors were to work consecutively from 2026 to 2028 according to the pre-COVID-19 schedule. The authorisation to start construction was supposed to be issued in mid-2020, but NPPA delayed applying for the required documents from the Egyptian Nuclear and Radiological Regulatory Authority because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the authorisation was issued in mid-2021.

Egypt has achieved a breakthrough in producing electricity over the past seven years, doubling production from 28,000 megawatts in 2014 to 60,000 in 2021. This increase ended the crisis of electricity in Egypt, which emerged during Mubarak’s last years. On the other hand, electricity consumption in Egypt is only 32,000 megawatts at its peak. This leaves an excess of 28,000 megawatts Egypt sought to export without results yet. Hence, building a nuclear power plant in Egypt to produce electricity now raises questions over feasibility.

While Dabaa’s nuclear power plant costs $25 billion, reaching $41 billion after adding interest, Egypt started building the Benban Solar Park in 2018 with a capacity of 1,465 megawatts and a cost of $2 billion. So, it was possible to get the same capacity of the Dabaa Nuclear Power Plant through building four solar power plants as Benban, at a total cost of $8 billion, which is less than half the cost of Dabaa. In addition, this will avoid the nuclear dangers created by operating nuclear reactors, which motivated Germany to announce the closure of all its reactors in 2022.