Ex-IAEA expert on Egypt’s nuclear power ambitions

6 Min Read

CAIRO: Egypt will issue an international tender for its first nuclear power plant in El-Debaa by the end of 2010, according to reports citing the country’s energy minister.

During a trip to Russia, Energy Minister Hassan Younes told reporters that the plant is slated to begin operations in 2019, costing an estimated $4 billion, and will provide 1,000 MW of power, the State Information Service (SIS) reported.

According to Yousry Abushady, former professor and head of the nuclear program at the Alexandria University, said that the tender will be presented next month.

Abushady was formerly the unit head responsible for safeguards implementation in North Korea and served as an inspector at the International Atomic Energy Agency for 26 years, but is now retired and based in Austria. In a phone interview with Daily News Egypt, he shared his insights on Egypt’s plans to ramp up its nuclear energy capacity.

There is “no other solution” for Egypt — and the world — but to further develop nuclear energy capacity, he said. “To block its expansion would be a crime,” he added.

After much analysis, it has been concluded that oil and gas reserves in Egypt will be depleted within 20 years, he said. Currently, 90 percent of Egypt’s energy is derived from oil and gas, another 10 percent from hydraulic, and a miniscule amount from solar and wind energy.

“Today, power plants are unable to supply sufficient energy” to meet Egyptian consumers’ energy demand, he argued, highlighting the constant blackouts Cairo experienced during the height of summer in August.

Next year, “the situation will be much worse” because the government is failing to curb electricity consumption, even in spite of its increasing cost, adding that in 10 years, Egyptians will “suffer.”

Thus, he warns, “without nuclear energy” there will be “huge” crises in the future.

Many, including the government, have placed high hopes on solar and wind energy, especially given Egypt’s favorable climatic and terrestrial conditions for both, to tackle the country’s energy shortage.

Egypt plans to generate 20 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2020.

Abushady, however, argues that while providing an important contribution, both solar and wind energy would most likely meet no more than 5-6 percent of the country’s energy demand.

He explained that when the ministry says a new solar energy project can supply 100 MW of electricity, it is unfeasible because solar is only able to capture sun rays for 12 hours a day. In reality, such a plant can only provide 50 Megawatts of power.

Asked what amount he believes nuclear energy could contribute to fill the potential energy gap after oil and gas reserves have been exhausted, he indicated that in 20 years — provided the government pursues an active nuclear energy policy — it could supply between 20-25 percent of Egypt’s energy production, and another 40-50 percent in 30 years.

“It [nuclear energy] is also half as expensive as solar energy…and may be one of the cheapest forms of energy, including compared to oil and gas, after hydraulic energy, which is the cheapest.”

It also depends on how cost is defined. Initial capital costs for building a nuclear power station are significant, he said, but once a plant has been constructed, it lasts for 40 years, and uranium, used for fueling the station, is “cheap.”

When asked to respond to assertions made by environmental NGOs that solar energy can meet much of many countries’ energy needs without the pollution associated with traditional sources of energy, Abushady said: “People ignore the effects of solar and wind on the environment…solar cells contain significant amounts of pollution.”

Silicone, which is used to produce solar cells, is fabricated from several sources, of which the by-product is harmful to the environment. Nevertheless he acknowledges that spent fuel represents a serious environmental challenge due to its high levels of radiation. To circumvent this issue, Abushady has been propounding several solutions.

One in particular is to follow Iran’s example: by uranium from a big supplier, such as Russia or the United States, and return the fuel for recycling or other uses once it has been spent.

He equally suggested that spent fuel can be stored onsite at the nuclear reactor or in storage areas under ground, both commonly applied elsewhere. In his view, nuclear energy poses “no real hazard,” highlighting that there are 660 nuclear reactors worldwide, and there have been “no real accidents” for light and heavy water nuclear reactors.

As this tender will pave the way for the first nuclear power plant in Egypt — besides the two small research reactors already in existence, the recently created national Egyptian nuclear regulatory agency must draft regulations for the industry, which cover all stages of the nuclear cycle, including waste management.


Share This Article
Leave a comment