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Egypt rejects nuke power concerns

New Egyptian ambassador insists plan to build a power plant is sound, despite widespread violence in recent months

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Published : 2013-12-01 19:42
Updated : 2013-12-01 19:42

Egypt’s new ambassador to South Korea insisted that plans to build a nuclear power plant near the country’s second-largest city of Alexandria were moving ahead, dismissing concerns over political violence.

In the five months since the military deposed Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, President Mohammed Morsi, violence has claimed the lives of an estimated 1,300 people in the country, despite a three-month state of emergency that ended Nov. 12.

“We are moving gradually toward a stable and democratic state with a firm government,” Egyptian Ambassador to South Korea Hany Selim told The Korea Herald at his office in Seoul on Thursday. 

Egyptian Ambassador to South Korea Hany Selim gestures during an interview with The Korea Herald at his office in Seoul on Thursday. (Philip Iglauer/The Korea Herald)
On Nov. 7 in a speech marking the 40th anniversary of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, Interim President Adly Mansour announced that Egypt was relaunching its nuclear power program.

Just days later, the country’s electricity ministry announced the government would launch an international tender in January 2014.

South Korea and Russia have publicly expressed interest in leading the construction of a nuclear power facility in El Dabaa on the Mediterranean coast, with an official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with knowledge of Egypt-South Korea ties confirming that Seoul wanted “to lead a consortium of companies” in building Egypt’s first nuclear reactor.

“We have had experts in the field in the United Arab Emirates and, with that engineering experience, South Korea is looking to Northeast Africa. We are looking to follow up on the MOU signed in May,” said the ministry official.

Egypt and South Korea have exchanged a number of visits of high-level government officials and technical experts on nuclear power this year. The two nations also signed an MOU on nuclear cooperation in May.

“We have been participating in investing in capacity-building programs provided by the South Korea side. We have sent our people to South Korea for training programs,” the ambassador said.

Egypt is not alone in its nuclear ambitions. Including Egypt’s proposed plant in Dabaa, the IAEA estimated that some 100 new reactors have been proposed around the world, bringing the total to 600. Almost all of the new reactors will be in Africa and Asia.

That prospect raised anxiety among world experts. In a speech at the IAEA Nuclear Security Conference in July, IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano questioned the prudence of the proliferation of nuclear energy throughout the developing world.

“The risks associated with more fissile material in less stable hands are obvious. Terrorists can more easily obtain the material from weaker governments. Nuclear power plants themselves are also a prime target for terrorists,” Amano said in his speech.

Such turmoil sweeping North Africa and the Middle East ― the so-called Arab Spring ― could affect the security of power plants and nuclear fuel, which some fear could be used in weapons in the case of a coup or fall into the hands of terrorists.

Ambassador Selim dismissed concerns over safety and security. “The situation in Egypt from several months ago has started to stabilize. The government opted for a road map to create a real democratic state,” he said.

“The first step concerning this road map will soon take place after we finalize the draft constitution.”

Another concern is the lack of nuclear technicians and engineers.

“South Korea lacks an adequate number of technicians and engineers at its facilities already. Sending technicians to UAE puts facilities here at greater risk. Where are we going to find adequately trained technicians if South Korea sends more to a country like Egypt?” said Daul Jang, a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Korea, which opposes the expansion of nuclear power here.

“Considering the endless nuclear scandals and corruption here in South Korea in 2012 and 2013, the government should be putting its time and effort into solving problems here first,” he added.

By Philip Iglauer (ephilip2011@heraldcorp.com)

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