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IAEA director: Building new nuclear plant is Egypt’s sovereign decision

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Yukiya Amano called Egypt’s decision to build a nuclear power plant a “sovereign decision every country is entitled to,” during a press conference on Tuesday following a meeting at the Foreign Ministry. 

“Egypt has a lot of expertise in the field of nuclear energy,” Amano said, adding that the IAEA doesn’t interfere with any country’s decision to produce nuclear energy, but only makes sure that they achieve their goals, and offers advice and legal guidance to ensure the highest levels of safety and security, privately owned Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper reported. 

Amano added that the agency offers trainings to engineers to develop their capabilities in constructing nuclear power plants and sets international safety standards and parameters for nuclear power plants. 

Amano also met with Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb on Tuesday morning where the two discussed Egypt’s peaceful use of nuclear energy. Mehleb described the controversial Dabaa nuclear power plant as “a hope for all Egyptians,” state-owned EgyNews agency reported, while emphasizing on Egypt’s hopes to cooperate with the IAEA to ensure the highest levels of safety. 

Amano’s visit comes shortly after Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Egypt in February. During the visit, Egypt and Russia signed an agreement to build a nuclear power plant in Egypt’s North Coast’s Dabaa area.

During a press conference with the presidents of the two countries, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said that both countries are cooperating in the energy field, particularly in the peaceful use of nuclear energy, pointing to Russia’s experience in that area. On the other hand, Putin said that not only will Russia help build a power plant, but it will also create and develop a new industry in the region and help with scientific research.

Ever since the news of constructing the new nuclear power plant in Dabaa resurfaced in 2011, it has been a widely controversial topic. 

Many environmental activists expressed concern over the safety hazards of nuclear energy at a time when the world’s most developed countries are opting for more natural and less aggressive energy sources. 

Egypt hasn’t had the most successful past in the field of nuclear energy either. Two small research reactors at the Inshas Nuclear Research Center in the northeastern suburbs of Cairo — a 22 megawatt reactor built by an Argentine company, active since 1997, and a two megawatt Soviet reactor that went online in 1961 — are currently operational, under “corrupt” and “deteriorating” conditions, according to the former director and head of maintenance of the Inshas reactor.

In 2011, two leaks occurred at the Inshas reactor, with the leaked fluid being reportedly radioactive. The former director of the facility and the former head of the department of atomic reactions were quoted as saying that “a major environmental catastrophe was narrowly averted.”

The Dabaa plant has also been the source of an outcry among residents of the area who are being dislplaced to make way for its construction. 

The potential nuclear site, which has been reportedly allocated 17 kilometers of beach front on the North Coast, means that residents of the are have been forced off their lands. The residents have been in negotiations with the authorities to receive compensation, but no actual action has been taken in that regard yet.

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