Egyptian environmental and human rights activists launched a grassroots protest
campaign this week against plans to construct a large-scale nuclear power plant
on the country’s northwestern coast.
In 1981, then-president Hosni
Mubarak issued a decree to build the 55 sq.km. plant in the town of El-Dabaa in
Egypt’s Matrouh governorate, as part of a push to develop the country’s civilian
However, in the wake of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster,
plans for the reactor were put on ice.
Now, after years of thwarted
efforts, Egypt’s nuclear energy ambitions still remain uncertain.
the Egyptian Electricity Ministry and the Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority
insist they will go ahead with the project, El-Dabaa residents and activists
complain that the state has illegally confiscated land and destroyed homes in
the town to pave the way for the power plant.
Construction of the plant
was scheduled to start in January, but was delayed following violent protests by
local residents who said they had been evicted from their
Meanwhile, international concerns about Egypt’s lax nuclear
security were also raised in January, after the International Atomic Energy
Agency confirmed reports that low-level radioactive material had been stolen
from a laboratory at El-Dabaa.
The El-Dabaa nuclear plans faced another
hurdle this week, when in a united effort to combat the scheme, opponents of the
power plant launched a large-scale campaign at Cairo’s Journalists Syndicate on
Present were three human rights groups: the Egyptian Initiative
for Personal Rights, the Egyptian Center for Civic and Legislative Reform and
Habitat International Coalition-Housing and Land Rights Network, as well as
El-Dabaa Mayor Mehanna Abdel Hamid and residents of the town.
called on President Mohamed Mursi to “remove the injustice” of the power plant
The mayor said that in order to build the power plant, the
government had demolished 350 homes and confiscated olive, fig and wheat fields
“The El-Dabaa nuclear project is dangerous,” he added, saying that
local people were frightened about radiation from the plant.
called on Mursi to implement the project in another location, such as the Red
The activists also presented a report on the plant, which they
said was compiled by their own fact-finding committee. The three human rights
groups accused the Mubarak administration of failing to disclose the details of
the project, including its costs.
Ahmed Mansour, who led the fact-finding
mission, accused the Egyptian press of ignoring the plight of El-Dabaa residents
while lauding Egypt’s nuclear ambitions, the Al- Masry Al-Youm
The activists have also taken their campaign online, promoting
it via a Facebook page. They say the protests will continue in the
Supporters of the peaceful nuclear program have also
established a Facebook campaign. Echoing generations of Egyptian leaders,
the campaign calls modern nuclear technology a source of national pride that
will “place Egypt in the ranks of developed nations.”
Gamal Abdel Nasser established the Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority in 1955.
Nasser initially pushed for the country to develop its civilian nuclear
capabilities, but in the 1960s threatened to develop a military nuclear program
– motivated both by intelligence that Israel was developing nuclear weapons and
his own ideologies that Egypt should lead the Arab world.
those plans after Israel defeated it in the 1967 Six Day War. In 1968 Nasser’s
successor, Anwar Sadat, signed the Nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty, enabling
the country to pursue civilian nuclear energy.
Egypt currently has two
nuclear research reactors.
The first, a Van de Graaf type 2 megawatt
reactor, is located at Inshas research facility, 60 km. from Cairo. It was built
and installed in 1959 by the USSR, three years after Egypt signed a nuclear
cooperation agreement with the Soviets.
An Argentinean company, INVAP,
installed the second reactor, a 22 megawatt ETTR-2 pool type, light water
reactor, in 1997. According to INVAP, the reactor is designed for neutron
physics, materials science, nuclear fuel and boron neutron capture therapy, and
allows Egypt to supply domestic medical isotopes.
According to a recent
report by Washington-based nonprofit the Center for Arms Control and
Non-Proliferation, development of civilian nuclear energy is important to Egypt,
since the country’s existing power plants are unable to supply enough
In 2011, Dr. Abd El Hamid Abbas El Desoky Ibrahim, head of
development at Egypt’s Nuclear Power Plants Authority, said the growing demand
for energy in Egypt meant the country needed to “be more concerned” with nuclear
Speaking at an IAEA conference on energy and nuclear power in
Africa, Ibrahim said this included updating the El- Dabaa plant.