The signing of the final agreements and notice to proceed between Cairo and Moscow for Egypt’s first nuclear power plant has led to Russia gaining ground in the race to further the region’s nuclear power ambitions.

After signing the initial agreements to develop the 4.8GW El-Dabaa nuclear plant a little over two years ago, Russian state nuclear provider Rosatom is now ready to begin constructing North Africa’s first nuclear power facility.

A key facet of the successful conclusion of negotiations for the Egyptian nuclear power project was an agreement reached by Russia’s Finance Ministry to provide finance for 85 per cent of the total cost of the multibillion-dollar scheme. The loan will be repaid over a period of 22 years.

Russia completed the Middle East’s first nuclear power plant in 2013, when it commissioned the controversial Bushehr nuclear facility in Iran, and is now seeking to further entrench its position in the lucrative atomic energy market across the broader region.

Rosatom has already started work on the second and third reactors at the Bushehr site, which are scheduled to be commissioned in 2025 and 2026 respectively.

Moreover, in 2015 Russia signed initial agreements to develop an estimated $10bn nuclear power plant in Jordan. While the financial feasibility of the project is still being assessed, it is clear that Moscow is targeting the Middle East as a key export market for nuclear power equipment and services.

Riyadh’s nuclear plans

In Saudi Arabia, the kingdom’s King Abdullah City for Atomic & Renewable Energy (KA-Care) recently received expressions of interest from international nuclear providers for its initial project. Despite slow progress with its atomic energy plans, the inclusion of nuclear power in its ambitious 2030 Vision shows that Riyadh is keen to diversify its fuel resources for power generation away from traditional hydrocarbons. If the kingdom can successfully execute its first 2.8GW nuclear project, it may develop a programme of up to 17-19GW of nuclear capacity in the coming decades.

Russia will face stiff competition to win the right to develop Saudi Arabia’s first nuclear power plant. Providers from France, South Korea and China have all signed nuclear cooperation agreements with the kingdom in recent years. More recently, the US was invited to participate in Saudi Arabia’s nuclear programme. As with Egypt’s maiden nuclear power project, the capacity of the bidders to provide comprehensive financial assistance will be key to winning work in any future projects.

With the first phase of the UAE’s Barakah nuclear facility due to be commissioned in 2018, the development of atomic energy in the Middle East and North Africa is set to become an increasingly important part of the region’s energy sector in the next decade.