On August 31, Egypt’s nuclear regulator granted its Nuclear Power Plants Authority a license to commence construction on the fourth and final unit of the El Dabaa nuclear power plant. The nuclear power plant, which would be Africa’s second commercial plant, will consist of 4 Russian VVER-1200 reactors (4.8 GW power capacity). As part of the 2015 agreement for the El Dabaa plant, Russia’s state nuclear company Rosatom agreed to supply nuclear fuel, train staff, provide maintenance oversight for ten years, and construct storage facilities for spent fuel. The plant is on track to help Egypt’s nuclear sector generate 9% of the country’s electricity by 2030. Currently, about 89% of its electricity comes from oil and gas, and the remaining 11% combined from hydroelectric dams, solar, and wind.
In recent months, Rosatom officials have signed multiple new nuclear cooperation and fuel agreements in Africa, with governments in Burundi, Ethiopia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
Why it matters: The construction of the El Dabaa plant will be a major accomplishment for Egypt, which has been pursuing the idea since the 1980s, and for Rosatom, which will create a new pillar in Russia-Egypt relations as well as a selling point across the region. Indeed, progress on El Dabaa may have encouraged some of Rosatom’s new African partners to work with the company.
The combination of low existing electricity access and rapid population growth puts heavy pressure on Africa’s governments to develop new electricity generation. Simultaneous diplomatic pressure to develop low-carbon energy may push many to consider nuclear. According to the World Nuclear Association, eight African countries recently completed provisional plans to establish nuclear power programs—and most have existing nuclear relationships with Russia. Others such as Namibia and Tanzania have pursued uranium mining with Rosatom’s cooperation.
Still, with declining energy revenue and increased defense spending, it’s less certain that Russia’s budget will allow Rosatom to continue to offer attractive nuclear energy financing. Also, general agreements don’t always yield completed nuclear projects. A 2019 Rosatom deal to build a nuclear science center in Rwanda fell through due to political concerns from Rwanda’s leading opposition party; in September, Rwanda signed an agreement with a German-Canadian firm to build a demonstration reactor by 2026 instead.