Launching construction of the $25-billion El-Dabaa power plant "means that Egypt has joined the nuclear club," says chief of Russia's state atomic energy corporation Rosatom, which is building the plant.

Construction begins ahead of a visit by Russian FM Sergey Lavrov, who is due in Cairo on Sunday to meet with the 22-member Arab League.
Construction begins ahead of a visit by Russian FM Sergey Lavrov, who is due in Cairo on Sunday to meet with the 22-member Arab League. (AFP file)

Russia's state atomic energy corporation Rosatom has launched the construction of Egypt's first nuclear power plant, a $25-billion project billed as the largest venture between the two countries in decades.

Egyptian Electricity Minister Mohamed Shaker and Rosatom chief Alexey Likhachev on Wednesday poured concrete into what will serve as the base for the El-Dabaa power plant, according to a Rosatom statement.

El-Dabaa plant, which lies about 300 kilometres northwest of Cairo on the Mediterranean coast, is planned to consist of four reactor units each with a 1,200 Megawatt generating capacity.

The construction launch "means that Egypt has joined the nuclear club," Likhachev said, according to Rosatom.

"The plant will be the largest project of Russian-Egyptian cooperation since the Aswan High Dam", Likhachev said, while Shaker called it a "historic event" for his country, the statement added.

The 111-metre-high and 3.6-kilometre-wide Aswan High Dam, harnessing the Nile river for hydropower and irrigation, was a key project in the early 1950s of pan-Arabist president Gamal Abdel Nasser –– and was built with Soviet support.

Decades in consideration

Egypt had already considered building a nuclear power plant in El-Dabaa in the 1980s, but the project was suspended after the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster.

In May, Finnish-led consortium Fennovoima said it had terminated a contract with Rosatom to build Finland's third nuclear power plant, citing risks linked to the Ukraine conflict.

Egypt, however, which has not clearly sided with either Russia or Ukraine following the start of the conflict, is pressing ahead with a plan launched in 2015 to become a civilian nuclear power.

Construction began ahead of a visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who is due in Cairo on Sunday to meet with the 22-member Arab League.

The nuclear programme is a flagship initiative of Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el Sissi alongside other mega-projects, including a new capital rising out of the sands east of Cairo.

READ MORE: Egypt and Russia sign contract to build Egypt's first nuclear plant

Source: AFP