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Facilities Last updated: December, 2013

Nuclear

  • While Egypt possesses one of the most advanced nuclear infrastructures in the Middle East, its program is by broader standards quite limited, as Cairo does not have nuclear power reactors or large-scale enrichment or reprocessing capabilities. Its civil nuclear program includes two research reactors and a collection of facilities dedicated to mining, milling, fuel fabrication, waste management, and (small-scale) reprocessing. Egypt has also developed regulatory bodies to provide oversight of its nuclear activities and a pool of universities capable of training scientists in fields related to nuclear physics and engineering.

    Relevant Individuals and Institutions

    Established in 1955, the Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority (EAEA) is Egypt's primary nuclear research authority and is led by Prof. Dr. Aly Islam Metwally Aly. [1] The EAEA also operates the National Center for Nuclear Safety and Radiation Control. The Ministry of Electricity and Energy supervises Egypt's civilian nuclear power plans, [2] overseen since 2001 by Minister Hassan Younes. [3]

    In 2006, President Hosni Mubarak reestablished the Supreme Council of Energy, headed by Prime Minister Ahmad Nazif, to pursue alternative sources of energy including nuclear power. [4] Following the official announcement in 2007 that Egypt would pursue nuclear power, Mubarak shifted authority back to himself by setting up the Supreme Council for Nuclear Energy. The council is headed by the President of the Republic and its membership consists of the head of the Intelligence Service, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister, and the Ministers of Defense, Finance, Electricity and Energy, International Cooperation, Environment, Trade, Industry, Higher Education and Scientific Research, and Economic Development.[5] With Mubarak’s resignation in February 2011, it is unclear whether the Egyptian president will retain supreme authority over the nation’s nuclear program.

    Funding for the Nuclear Program

    Insufficient funding has historically constrained Egypt's nuclear development. Following ratification of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) in 1981, Egypt signed cooperation agreements with France, the United States, West Germany, and Canada to build reactors at El-Dabaa near Alexandria. However, Egypt was incapable of funding the program without supplier assistance and was unable to secure sufficient external loans to move forward. [6] Thereafter, Cairo focused on cheaper, smaller-scale research projects. Its largest project to date is the 22 MW ETRR-2 research reactor, whose construction cost was approximately $75 million, with an annual operating cost of $6 million. [7] Cairo has also approached the IAEA for financial assistance with its nuclear program. The IAEA provided non-convertible currency funds, available for technical cooperation projects, to help build Egypt's 20 MeV cyclotron accelerator.

    Most recently, Egypt signed a contract with the Australian engineering company Worley Parsons to design and construct its first nuclear power plant. The contract is worth an estimated $160 million over eight years. [8] However, the viability of Egypt's future nuclear power plans remains in doubt. Minister of Electricity and Energy Younes estimates the total cost to construct Egypt's first nuclear power plant at $1.5 billion.[9] Yet this figure may underestimate the actual cost as no nuclear plant has ever been completed on budget.[10] In addition, Rosatom head Sergey Kiriyenko said that the starting price for one nuclear generating unit is $2.5 billion, placing the cost of a two-to-four unit nuclear power station at $5 to $10 billion.[11] Younes has indicated that Egypt will require help from foreign investors and financial institutions. However, the recent financial crisis has made it more difficult for countries like Egypt to raise the large amounts of debt financing needed to pay for new reactors. [12] It is unclear whether anyone would be willing to provide Egypt with the necessary funds to jumpstart its nuclear power program. As such, Cairo may be facing a repeat performance of its prior attempts to invest in nuclear energy.

    Egypt's Past, Present, and Planned Nuclear Facilities

    Soviet assistance proved critical in the early days of Egypt's nuclear program. In 1961, the USSR finished construction of Egypt's first nuclear reactor, a 2MW research reactor at Inshas. [13] Following this, Egypt repeatedly attempted to construct reactors large enough for use in electricity production and seawater desalination. However, the program was hindered by insufficient financial resources, Egypt's non-participation until 1981 in the NPT, and other political and technical obstacles.

    Although large-scale power plant projects failed, Egypt was able to develop a nuclear research and development infrastructure. Hot cells installed during the 1980s at the Hydrometallurgy Pilot Plant and the Hot Laboratory and Waste Management Center provided Egyptian scientists with plutonium extraction training opportunities. Scientists also gained exposure to the front-end of the fuel cycle through research at the Nuclear Chemistry Building. In addition, the ETTR-1 and ETTR-2 research reactors—operational since 1962 and 1997, respectively—provided hands-on reactor operation experience. Although under IAEA safeguards, the ETRR-2 reactor produces approximately six kilograms of plutonium each year, enough for approximately one nuclear weapon. [14]

    Egypt has carried out uranium exploration since 1962 and has located several mineralized deposits in the Eastern Desert and Sinai Peninsula. To exploit these resources, the EAEA formed the Nuclear Materials Authority (NMA) to oversee exploration and processing. [15] In 1979, the NMA launched a $2.1 million program to begin operation of a full-scale uranium mine and mill at Miskat, but this never happened due to insufficient funding. [16] Egyptian attempts to mine unconventional uranium resources have also met with failure. A semi-pilot uranium extraction plant at Inshas failed to extract uranium ore from phosphoric acid after encountering insurmountable technical difficulties, while a pilot-scale project to mine uranium from monazite deposits proved economically unfeasible. [17] Recently, the NMA has suffered substantial budget cuts, [18] putting the near-term future of materially significant uranium mining in doubt.

    In September 2006, Egypt officially stated its intent to again pursue large-scale nuclear power development, calling for the construction of up to 10 plants in the El-Dabaa region. [19] Although Egypt requested and received IAEA assistance with the project, [20] Cairo still refuses to place its nuclear facilities under stricter safeguards authority by signing the IAEA Additional Protocol. [21] Countries such as Canada, France, and the United States are conditioning any economic and technical assistance on Egyptian participation in the Additional Protocol, which has prompted Egypt to consider deals with China and Russia, as neither insists on Additional Protocol adherence as a condition of supply. [22] Minister Younes has stated that Egypt will not pursue indigenous uranium enrichment in order to fuel its reactors. [23] However, Younes has not indicated the type of reactors under consideration (natural uranium or LEU fueled), and whether his country would manufacture its own natural uranium fuel rods should it pursue the former reactor type.

    Sources:
    [1] Aly Islam Metwally Aly, "Preample," Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority, www.eaea.org.eg.
    [2] Judith Perera, "Nuclear Industry of Egypt," March 2003, pp. 5-6, www.opensource.gov.
    [3] "The Minister," Ministry of Electricity and Energy, www.moee.gov.eg.
    [4] "Egypt to Start Building Nuclear Power Plants Soon, Minister Says," The Associated Press, 24 September 2006.
    [5] "Republican Decree for setting Supreme Council on Nuclear Energy," Egypt State Information Service, 13 November 2007, www.sis.gov.eg/ En.
    [6] Judith Perera, "Nuclear Industry of Egypt," March 2003, p. 7, www.opensource.gov.
    [7] Judith Perera, "Nuclear Industry of Egypt," March 2003, pp. 8-9, www.opensource.gov.
    [8] Teresa Ooi, "Nuclear plants give Worley power surge," Weekend Australian, 20 June 2009, p. 29.
    [9] "Egypt unveils plans for nuclear power," Gulf Times, 30 October 2007, www.gulf-times.com; Mark Hibbs, "GCC nuclear vision challenges Arab world's technology focus," Nucleonics Week, 4 December 2008.
    [10] Rebecca Bream, and Joshua Chaffin, "Suspicion of Russian reliability fuels change of heart," Financial Times, 3 July 2009.
    [11] "Egypt invites Russia to take part in nuclear power plant tender – official," BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union, 24 June 2009.
    [12] Rebecca Bream, and Joshua Chaffin, "Suspicion of Russian reliability fuels change of heart," Financial Times, 3 July 2009; Mark Hibbs, "GCC nuclear vision challenges Arab world's technology focus," Nucleonics Week, 4 December 2008.
    [13] Judith Perera, "Nuclear Industry of Egypt," March 2003, pp. 1-3, www.opensource.gov.
    [14] Nuclear Programmes in the Middle East: In the shadow of Iran, ed. Mark Fitzpatrick, (London: The International Institute for Strategic Studies, 2008), p. 26.
    [15] Judith Perera, "Nuclear Industry of Egypt," March 2003, pp. 5-6, www.opensource.gov.
    [16] Judith Perera, "Nuclear Industry of Egypt," March 2003, pp. 10-11, www.opensource.gov.
    [17] NMA PowerPoint, "Uranium Extraction Unit," www.iaea.org.
    [18] OECD, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Uranium 2005: Resources, Production and Demand, (Paris: OECD Publishing, 2 June 2006), p. 156.
    [19] "Egypt to Start Building Nuclear Power Plants Soon, Minister Says," The Associated Press, 24 September 2006; "Egypt's Peaceful Nuclear Programme Receives Acclaim Worldwide," BBC, 15 March 2007.
    [20] "Egypt Studies of Egyptian Nuclear Station Sent to IAEA," InfoProd, 10 June 2007.
    [21] "Egypt Refuses to Sign UN Nuclear Watchdog Protocols for Stricter Inspections," International Herald Tribune, 12 December 2007; "Egypt Pressured by USA, France to Sign Additional Nuclear Protocol—website," BBC Monitoring Middle East, 16 January 2008.
    [22] "Egypt Refuses to Sign UN Nuclear Watchdog Protocols for Stricter Inspections," International Herald Tribune, 12 December 2007; "Egypt Pressured by USA, France to Sign Additional Nuclear Protocol—website," BBC Monitoring Middle East, 16 January 2008.
    [23] Muhammad al-Sa'dani, "Egypt: Electricity Minister Views Plans for Nuclear Power Stations," Al-Ahram, in OSC Document: GMP20061009013002, 9 October 2006; "Egyptian Press Highlights 9 Oct 06," BBC, 9 October 2006.

    Facilities Descriptions

    Nuclear-Conversion
    Nuclear-Milling
    Nuclear-Research Reactors

Missiles

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This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents.

Get the Facts on Egypt

  • Not a member of the BTWC or the CWC
  • Used chemical weapons during the 1960s conflict in North Yemen
  • Maintains two nuclear research reactors