CAIRO: Despite the destruction of Iraq’s nuclear program and with US efforts to isolate Iran over its reactors, several countries in the Arab world are looking to nuclear power to provide energy.
And Egypt is leading the pack.
According to the Middle East Economic Digest, Egypt’s program – though stalled since 1984 – is more advanced than Algeria, Morocco and Saudi Arabia’s. Tunisia and the United Arab Emirates also recently signaled their interest in developing safe nuclear power generation.
“Egypt is the most advanced in the Middle East and Africa in terms of nuclear capabilities, says Abdel Hakim Kandil, professor of nuclear and inorganic chemistry and director of the faculty and leadership development program at Helwan University.
Egypt’s program kicked off in 1956, the same year as India’s, when it received a 2-megawatt (MW) nuclear research reactor from the Soviet Union. However, the program slowed down considerably and has since been overshadowed by India’s, which currently uses 16 nuclear reactors to supply the world’s second most populated nation with 15.7 billion kilowatts of energy.
India is planning to build 10 more.
In 1998, Egypt began using a 22-MW nuclear reactor for research and nuclear medicine purposes.
Last month, Gamal Mubarak, deputy chairman of the National Democratic Party (NDP), suggested it was in Egypt’s long-term interests to turn to nuclear technology for energy supplies.
“We are planning to build four reactors … one in Dabaa followed by three more later on, Kandil told The Daily Star Egypt.
He explains that Egypt’s energy needs are growing at a quickening rate and that with only 21 million kilowatts of energy produced, demand could outpace supply.
“In 12 years we will need three times as much energy. We must work with nuclear reactors, he said.
Last week, the issues of nuclear technologies exchange between Egypt and Russia and China was on the agenda during President Mubarak’s visit to the two world powers.
The move to seek Russian and Chinese technical aid rather than American assistance (the US is currently helping India revamp its nuclear program) was seen as a policy shift by some analysts.
But Kandil said no decision has been made as to which of the three nuclear powers would be approached for help.
Last week, Francis Ricciardone, the US ambassador to Egypt, said his country welcomed Egypt’s prospective nuclear program.
But due to the relatively recent announcement, the two governments have yet to work out the details of the program to include it in American aid to Egypt.
This project [nuclear plans] isn t included in the general frame of the aid agreements, says Wahid Abdel Magead, analyst at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. Whether this would be subject to change or not is yet to be known, he adds.