12.01.2024 Author: Aleksei Bolshakov

Russia-Egypt: Peaceful Atom Unites

Russia-Egypt: Peaceful Atom Unites

The African continent is one of the fastest growing energy markets in the world, driven by the economic and demographic potential of countries on the continent. Such a leap poses new challenges for African countries. The energy industry remains one of the main challenges.

As a major player in the market, Russia is the partner of choice for many countries in the nuclear energy field. The Rosatom State Corporation currently holds about 70 percent of the global export market for construction of new nuclear power plants. According to the Director General of the Corporation, Alexey Likhachev, its export volume exceeded $10 billion in 2022. He also said that about $200 billion worth of international orders would be fulfilled in the next 10 years.

In total, nuclear cooperation and interim planning agreements have now been signed with 15 sub-Saharan African countries, including Ghana, Zambia, Kenya, South Africa, the Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania and others; as well as with the North African countries: Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco. Although none of these agreements, except for the Egyptian ones, have resulted in firm commitments, they demonstrate the scale of the African continent’s interest in the development of nuclear energy.

The history of Rosatom’s cooperation with African countries dates back to the era of nuclear programme development. Egypt was the first in the Middle East to receive a Soviet-built research reactor in 1961. In total, more than a hundred industrial facilities were built in Egypt with the assistance of the USSR, including the Helwan Metallurgical Plant, the Nag Hammadi Aluminium Smelter, the Aswan-Alexandria power lines, etc.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, cooperation between the two countries continued and even became more intense, and after al-Sisi’s victory in the 2014 elections, relations between the countries improved markedly. Russia became the first country outside the Arab world to receive a visit from the current Egyptian president. In February 2015, Russian President Vladimir Putin made an official visit to Cairo, which ended with an agreement on Rosatom’s participation in the construction of the first Egyptian nuclear power plant, El-Dabaa, as well as the creation of a free trade zone between Egypt and the Eurasian Economic Union. The El-Dabaa nuclear power plant, with four Russian-designed 1.2 gigawatt VVER (water-water energetic reactor) reactor units, is expected to generate more than 10 percent of Egypt’s total electricity and provide a consistent baseload power source for 20 million people.

In addition to producing electricity, the El-Dabaa nuclear power plant will also have the capacity to desalinate coastal seawater, which will be used to fill and replenish the primary and secondary circuits of the four reactors, sustain the industrial and emergency water supplies for the plant, and provide drinking water to maintenance personnel. El-Dabaa could expand its desalination capacity to 100,000 cubic meters per day.

This reflects Cairo’s desire to build more desalination facilities, provide the population with reliable sources of water, and mitigate the impacts of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Nile flow into Egypt.

Speaking in numbers, the construction of all four El-Dabaa power units requires up to $30 billion in financing: a Russian loan of $25 billion will cover 85% of the costs, and Egypt will finance the rest. Under the terms of the agreement, Egypt must begin repaying the loan with a 3% annual interest rate from October 2029. It is also worth noting that payments can be made not only in US dollars, but also in national currencies, which is mutually beneficial for the two countries and corresponds to Russia’s multipolar policy.


The American publication Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is skeptical about the implementation of the El-Dabaa NPP project. “With ongoing sanctions and hostilities in Ukraine, Moscow may deprioritize such foreign projects and give preference to its own military budget, civil servants, and infrastructure,” they write.

Firstly, Russia was and still remains the main player in the nuclear energy market, which has always fulfilled its contractual obligations. If any difficulties arose, it was the fault of the so-called allies, as during the construction of the Akkuyu nuclear power plant in southern Turkey, when there were problems with the supply of electrical equipment from the German Siemens Energy.

Secondly, who else will do it if not Rosatom? Maybe French EDF? The effectiveness of cooperation with this company can be judged by the Olkiluoto-3 nuclear power plant project in Finland: construction took 18 years and the original estimate was exceeded at least five times. Olkiluoto-3 could not be launched due to some minor malfunctions, but it has now been put into operation. The most interesting thing is that new reactors in France are being built and maintained by specialists from the American Westinghouse, known for the construction of the “wonderful” Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant.

Thirdly, who are the judges? Information disseminated by a publication that is funded by “dubious” charities should be viewed with skepticism. In this regard, one cannot help but wonder whether the authors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, who systematically publish anti-Russian materials, are biased?

El-Dabaa NPP is Russia’s flagship project on the African continent, which goes well beyond the construction of the facility. Moscow is working closely with Egyptian specialists, thereby developing nuclear energy in this North African country from scratch, which involves training personnel, providing technical services, etc. In other words, Russia supports Egypt on its path towards sovereign energy development. Cairo also places great importance on this project. Egypt calls the day November 19, 2015, when the NPP building contract was signed, a historical event, and in 2022 the government officially established an annual holiday on November 19 – Nuclear Energy Day.

This is, indeed, the first project of this scale for Cairo, and therefore the partners have carefully defined mutual obligations. Monitoring and research show that other African countries, following Egypt, are interested in Russian nuclear technology, but typically experience severe bottlenecks in financing. The economic success of El-Dabaa could be another step towards a stronger Russian presence in Egypt and the Middle East, no less important than the building of the Aswan High Dam.


Alexey Bolshakov, international journalist, exclusively for the internet journal New Eastern Outlook

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