Cablegate: Egypt's Nuclear Power Plant Plans Subject to Delays

P 221329Z DEC 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 002348


E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/22/2019


Classified By: Minister Counselor for Economic and Political Affairs Do nald A. Blome for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d)
1. (C/NF) Main Points: -- Egypt's first commercial scale reactor is officially slated to come on line in 2020, with three more to be in operation by 2025. The GOE is expected to announce in January 2010 that El Daba on the Mediterranean Coast will be the site of the first plant. -- Nuclear Power Plants Authority (NPPA) Chairman Yassin Ibrahim, however, expressed serious doubts about official GOE timelines and expectations for Egypt's nuclear power program. He believes Egypt lacks the human capacity required to manage the complexities of nuclear safety and development. -- Given Egyptian lack of expertise and predicted delays, nuclear power will be "irrelevant" in meeting Egypt's energy needs for "at least" the next 15 years, according to Ibrahim. Nuclear Energy Policy ---------------------

2. (SBU) In a recent discussion with Econoff, NPPA Chairman Ibrahim said Egypt's current nuclear development posture is a function of a "national energy debate" that President Mubarak, as head of the Supreme Energy Council (SEC), initiated in 2006 and which targeted nuclear and alternative fuels for larger roles as fossil fuel reserves and production wane in the medium and long-term.

3. (C/NF) As a result of this process, the SEC, according to Ibrahim, set a target date of 2020 for Egypt's first commercial scale reactor to come on line, with three more to be in operation by 2025. He indicated that a contract for the first plant is to be put out for bid in 2011, and all contracts scheduled to be signed by 2013, with ground breaking by 2015. First Plant Site ----------------

4.(C) Ibrahim advised that he will recommend to "national authorities" by the end of 2009 a site and construction design type for the nuclear power plant, based on advice from Australian consulting firm Worley Parsons, which the GOE retained in June 2009 (reftel). Ibrahim identified four other possible sites but said the El Daba site on the Mediterranean coast, some thirty miles west of WWII's El Alamein battlefield, is the most likely to be chosen from among five competing sites.

5. (C/NF) Ibrahim said the main opposition to the El Daba coastal site comes from Egyptian businessmen interested in touristic development of the prime beachfront location. Ibrahim said the site announcement has been delayed as he has had to educate senior officials and others on the operational importance of a nuclear plant being next to a water source, for cooling purposes, rather than in inland desert locations less attractive for real estate development. He said the orientation of the El Daba site to local currents and surf patterns would maximize the cooling effect of the water, an operational advantage that makes El Daba the clear front-runner. Reactor Design --------------

6. (C/NF) Ibrahim said he would recommend only "proven" reactor designs, with operational histories of five or more years and exclude all "generation 3" reactors. He added that the choice of design would be made by the SEC, and with the personal involvement of President Mubarak. Ibrahim said the SEC design choice may be a type that includes "a heavy water feature." The choice will in any case be made in early 2010, according to Ibrahim. Obstacles To Force Delays -------------------------

7. (C/NF) Ibrahim said he expects the pace of civilian nuclear power development to be much slower than most GOE officials estimate. He anticipates delays in meeting the 2020 production date for the first plant and believes that the second or third scheduled plants are likely to be delayed "for several years at least" due to logistical, financial, political and other factors. .

8. (C/NF) Ibrahim explained that Egypt is at an especially large disadvantage with regard to "human capacity," lacking in trained professionals "at every level" and in "all sectors" related "even indirectly" to a nuclear power program. Ibrahim stated that Egypt's higher educational system is not capable of closing this capacity gap quickly.

9.(C/NF) Ibrahim thus reasoned that the first three nuclear plants Egypt will need to be turn-key projects, i.e., with design and construction provided wholly by foreign expertise. He added that there would need to be a delay of two to three years between projects so as to permit consolidation of human and physical infrastructure. The net effect, in Ibrahim's view, is that nuclear power will be "irrelevant" to Egypt's energy needs for "at least" the next 15 years, with non-nuclear sources, primarily wind, becoming available "well before" before nuclear. Scobey

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