By Menna Zaki
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi signed a nuclear power plant deal with Russia Thursday, just days after the Kremlin’s unilateral announcement that the Russian charter flight which blew up over Sinai late October was downed by an act of terrorism.
In a press conference following a signing ceremony, Sisi described the Russian proposal as “the fastest” and the “best” deal on the table, stressing that the nuclear programme will be used for peaceful power-generation purposes.
It’s “a message of hope and peace to Egyptians and the world,” he added.
He also assured that Egypt is committed “firmly and fully” to the non-proliferation treaty ratified by Egypt which prevents the use and dissemination nuclear weapons.
He added that there are guarantees during implementation and function relating to the security and environmental considerations.
Sergey Kiriyenko, the head of Russia’s state-owned nuclear firm Rosatom, signed the Dabaa deal with the Egyptian government in Cairo’s Itihadeya palace.
According to Rosatom’s profile on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the company was a leader of the USD 500 billion global nuclear energy market in 2014, “building 37% of all new reactors in the world.” It operates its nuclear reactors on a build-own-operate (BOO) model, “providing uranium fuel, managing the reactors, and clearing away nuclear waste.”
The Dabaa plant is expected to be completed by 2022 by which time a four-reactor nuclear power facility with a total generation capacity of 4.8 GW will be built. According to a news release published on the Rosatom website, the agreement was for the collaboration in the construction and operation of a nuclear power plant equipped with four NPP units with a capacity of 1200 MW each.
Additionally, said the release, a “Memorandum of Understanding between the Russian Federal Service for Environmental, Technological and Nuclear Supervision and the Egyptian regulatory body for nuclear and radiological safety has been signed in order to facilitate further development of the nuclear infrastructure.”
Moscow will provide finance for the construction, with repayment coming through a share of revenues over a 35-year period.
Egypt will pay for the power plant with proceeds from “the actual production of electricity” from this plant, Sisi said.
“The Dabaa nuclear plant will be the largest Russian-Egyptian project since the Aswan dam,” Kiriyenko told the media on Thursday, adding that this will mark a new chapter in the history of the two countries’ bilateral relations.
He added that this deal “will make Egypt the regional technological leader and the region’s only country with NPP 3+ Gen technology.”
The first two reactors will be completed within nine years from the start of the construction, and Sisi said at the press conference that “the reactors can withstand a collision by a plane of 400 tons at a speed of 150 meters per second.”
The deal, which has been under negotiation for months, was signed days after Russia vowed to avenge the terrorist bombing of a Russian airliner killing all 224 passengers and crew on board, the majority of whom were Russian holidaymakers visiting the resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh and heading to St. Petersburg.
Since the crash, Egypt has made no conclusive statements on the results of the Egypt-led international investigation, agreeing only that the jet broke up midair after abruptly disappearing from the radar 23 minutes from takeoff.
Egyptian officials said on separate occasions that it is too early to jump to conclusions and that no criminal evidence can be established so far.
Russia, on the other hand, announced days before signing the nuclear deal with Egypt that the crash was a terrorist act. Days after the crash, Russia had halted all flights to Egypt and banned the national carrier EgyptAir from flying to Russia, apparently based on information passed on by the UK which was not shared with Egypt, according to Egyptian officials.
Sisi however said that the timing of deal is significant as it sends a message about the strength of Egypt’s relations with Russia.
He said that it is also a message that Egyptians understand the “concerns of the Russian” people and the Russian leadership regarding the security of its nationals.
Russia announced Thursday that it has evacuated 90,000 of its citizens from Egypt, with the remaining 2,500 to leave by November 30.
Sisi noted that since the unfortunate incident, Egypt has been cooperating with Russia and other countries involved and that “our cooperation stresses that we are dealing with it with utmost transparency and responsibility as the lives of people is of utmost importance.”
Egypt’s lax airport security has come under heavy scrutiny since the incident amid news reports that small bribes by travellers are enough to help them bypass queues and luggage scanners.
Sisi accordingly said that Egypt has undertaken a wide range of procedures to upgrade security checks at airports and harbors.
The Egyptian Holding Airport and Air Navigation Company activated a security check plan in airports nationwide at a cost of EGP 175 million to renew and replace the airports’ radiation scanners for passengers, cargo, luggage, parcels and even vehicles.
Sisi said “we will make sure that there are no more loopholes” or causes for “concern and doubt.”