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A nuclear falling out
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 03 - 09 - 2009

Parliamentarians and nuclear power scientists appeal to President Hosni Mubarak to prevent businessmen from interfering in the choice of sites for nuclear power plants, Gamal Essam El-Din reports
Members of the Shura Council's Industry and Energy Committee have accused a number of influential businessmen of seeking to exclude Al-Dabaa, on Egypt's northern Mediterranean coast, from being considered a possible site for one of the five nuclear power plants Egypt proposed to build over the next two decades. Ibrahim Kamel, a multi-millionaire industrialist and member of the National Democratic Party's (NDP) Secretariat General, was singled out for attack, even by NDP members of the committee.
Mohamed Ragab, NDP Shura Council spokesman, has charged that Kamel, and other influential businessmen close to the NDP, want to use the site for profitable tourist developments, despite the fact that since the 1980s over LE500 million has been spent on feasibility studies that confirm it is among the most suitable locations for a nuclear power plant.
Nagui El-Shehabi, chairman of Al-Geel (Generation), an opposition party, also cried foul, accusing Kamel of "leading a conspiracy against the Egyptian people and their dream of having nuclear power plants".
Independent MP Gamal Zahran lent his voice to the protests, calling upon President Hosni Mubarak not to allow the site to be exploited by NDP business tycoons for personal profit. "President Mubarak is the only figure capable of standing up to the NDP's businessmen," Zahran told Al-Ahram Weekly.
Nuclear power experts were quick to join the fray. Abdel-Fattah Hilal, former deputy chairman of the Egyptian Atomic Energy Authority (EAEA), complained that "Al-Dabaa is part of the national nuclear programme yet some businessmen are seeking to secure it as the site for tourist projects to boost their personal wealth".
Al-Dabaa, Hilal explained, was first selected as the site for a nuclear power station in 1983, though the plans were eventually shelved in the wake of the 1986 Chernobyl accident. In 2006, however, the same site was again designated for the construction of a commercial nuclear plant.
Esmat Hanim Ibrahim, a professor of nuclear physics, argues that five nuclear power plants will be needed to meet Egypt's future energy demands and that between two and four of them should be located at Al-Dabaa.
Ibrahim warns against any loss of momentum behind Egypt's nuclear programme.
"Egypt could face energy shortages in the very near future, and building a nuclear plant takes at least seven years," she says. Ibrahim also urged President Hosni Mubarak to intervene and prevent businessmen trying to put a brake on developing the area for nuclear power.
Mohamed El-Qollali, chairman of the EAEA, estimates that 20 per cent of Egypt's energy needs could be supplied by nuclear power plants in the near future.
In an interview with the weekly Al-Mussawar magazine, Kamel criticised not only the choice of the Al-Dabaa site, but the whole project.
"It is an insignificant but very expensive project that will generate some electricity," Kamel said. He warned that "Al-Dabaa could become another Chernobyl, causing catastrophic environmental damage to the city of Cairo."
Kamel owns 64 million square metres of land between Alexandria and Marsa Matrouh on which he intends to build a private airport and a number of up- market resorts. When the Al-Dabaa project went into limbo Kamel attempted to annex the site and amalgamate it with his own landholdings.
"There is nothing sacrosanct about the location," says Kamel. "It is not a matter of life and death. There are several alternative sites for nuclear plants."
Kamel argues that the situation on the Northern Mediterranean Coast has changed dramatically since 1983. What was deserted land in the 1980s, he says, is now ripe for real estate development.
Magdi Afifi, NDP business tycoon and member of the Shura Council, estimates that "the land around Al-Dabaa on the Northern Coast could be sold for as much as LE40 billion. That would build nine nuclear power stations without costing the state a penny."
Minister of Electricity Hassan Younis told the Shura Council that Al-Dabaa "is just one of five locations being considered for the construction of nuclear power plants".
He explained that the Egyptian Nuclear Power Plant Authority's (NPPA) contract with Australia-based engineering consultants Worley Parsons involves identifying the most suitable locations for the planned nuclear power plants. "He disclosed that five locations are currently being considered: Al-Dabaa (east of Marsa Matrouh), Al-Najila (west of Marsa Matrouh), Marsa Alam and Safaga on the western coast of the Red Sea and Hammam Pharaon on the eastern part of the Gulf of Suez.
"Worley Parsons is progressing with site selection studies, though Al-Dabaa has remained the preferred site," said Younis.
Yassin Ibrahim, chairman of the Nuclear Power Plants Authority (NPPA), a division of the Ministry of Electricity and Energy, reports that Worley Parsons has concluded 70 per cent of its planned studies on Al-Dabaa site.
"They have confirmed the findings of older studies, that Al-Dabaa is eminently suited to be the site of Egypt's first nuclear power plant," says Ibrahim. He points out that President Mubarak's 1983 presidential order clearly states that Al-Dabaa, half way between Alexandria and Marsa Matrouh, should be reserved for the construction of a nuclear power plant.
"As long as the presidential order is in effect no businessman should contemplate using the land for tourist development," says Ibrahim.


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