The end of 2017 and early 2018 have seen a series of landmark events as several of the region’s countries have made major steps towards realizing their nuclear programmes. In December 2017, Egypt and Russia signed into effect notices to proceed with the contracts for Egypt’s first nuclear power plant at El Dabaa; in March 2018, the UAE completed Unit 1 of its first nuclear power plant, Barakah, while in April Turkey began the construction of its own first NPP, Akkuyu. These milestones have further cemented Middle East’s status as the world’s emerging nuclear powerhouse and new horizon.
Mohamed Abu Basha, Director, Head of Macroeconomic Analysis, Research at EFG Hermes Holding, reflects on the reasons behind this trend, ‘The drive in the region to go for nuclear power largely emanates from two key considerations. First, nuclear power remains the cheapest and sustainable sources for electricity production. Second, most countries have relied on hydrocarbons as a key source to generate power for many years, hence they are seeking diversity by adding nuclear to their energy mix’.
El Dabaa, Egypt’s first nuclear power plant, will similarly be supplying round 10% of the country’s electricity. More importantly, as in other MENA countries that actively pursue nuclear power programmes, it will be vital to powering Egypt’s economic development and key projects in virtually every sphere of life. Spokesperson for the Nuclear and Radiological Regulatory Authority of Egypt, Dr Karim Abd El-Aziz Al-Adham, notes, ‘The El Dabaa NPP project will stimulate Egypt's economy through providing more energy for the development projects. This will enhance the industrial, agricultural and transportation projects. Its overall impact on the economy will be highly positive’.
In addition to providing energy security, the development of a national nuclear power programme can be regarded as a sign of much-needed stability in the region’s states. Former Chairman of the Nuclear Materials Authority of Egypt, Dr Abdel Aty Salman says of the El Dabaa plant, ‘The construction of the El Dabaa NPP is a proof of political safety and stability in Egypt, which in turn attracts many investors to Egypt. This includes construction, equipment manufacturing, electronics and other fields’.
The shift towards nuclear power is also indicative of MENA countries’ desire to lessen their dependence on fossil fuels and make the transition to a low-carbon economy. Professor Yasin Ibrahim, Former Chairman of Nuclear Power Plants Authority, explains, ‘ The world is looking for several means, including the development of new technologies that contribute in reducing carbon emissions in energy sector, where the expansion of using nuclear energy comes on top of these means.’ Ibrahim cites nuclear power plants’ high power-generating capacity, long operational lifetime and lack of CO2 emissions as key factors that ‘highlight the contribution of nuclear plants to the preservation of the environment and the production of clean, non-polluting energy, as well as their economic and extended economic feasibility compared to other sources and technologies producing electricity.’
Then there is the prestige of joining the elite club of countries with active peaceful nuclear power programmes. In addition to the international cachet that comes with having a nuclear power plant, there are the tangible benefits of major advances in science, technology and education that the development of nuclear power necessarily entails – especially considering that the first MENA countries to be building nuclear power plants are going for cutting-edge technologies, including Egypt and Turkey, which have both chosen Rosatom’s Generation 3+ VVER-1200 reactors for their respective first nuclear power plants. Mohamed Abu Basha considers Rosatom’s experience and international references a key factor in Egypt’s choice of contractor for its first NPP, ‘ As one of the most experienced companies, as well as country, in operating nuclear power plants in the region, Rosatom was clearly on top of the list for Egypt when considering building its own plant.’
All things considered, MENA’s decisive move towards nuclear seems both a logical and progressive step and is certain to contribute to the region and its individual countries’ stability, welfare and international standing. Dr. Alia Al Mahdi, Professor of Economics and Former Dean of the Faculty of Economics and Political Science, Cairo University, concludes, ‘Egypt gains from being on a par position with other regional countries having or building new NPPs, which helps in maintaining a strategic balance in the region’.
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