Egypt is considering reopening its nuclear energy program, President Mohammed Morsi told a group of Egyptian expatriates living in China on Wednesday evening.
"Cairo is considering anew the Egyptian nuclear program, which will be purely for civilian purposes, to provide clean energy to the citizens of Egypt," Morsi said. He was in China on an official visit before traveling to Iran to attend the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran.
Responding to the report, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Army Radio on Thursday morning that there were "many nations" that had civilian nuclear energy programs, and that "Israel doesn't see Egypt working toward a military nuclear program."
Barak said problems arose when a country used its civilian nuclear program to mask nuclear military work. "The Egyptians are not there," Barak said.
According to the Federation of Nuclear Scientists, a group that monitors nuclear activity worldwide, The Egyptian nuclear program was launched in 1954. Egypt acquired its first nuclear reactor from the Soviet Union in 1961, and it was opened at Inchass, in the Nile Delta, by President Gamal Abdel Nasser. The Soviets controlled the disposal of spent fuel from the small (2-megawatt) reactor, which was in any event was not capable of producing a significant amount of weapons-grade material.
Egyptian nuclear ambitions were discarded following the 1967 defeat at the hands of Israel. Egypt signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968 but delayed ratifying it, presumably because the government had evidence that Israel had embarked on a nuclear weapons program.
Subsequently, Egypt lost many of its nuclear experts who had to travel abroad to seek work opportunities. Some emigrated to Canada and others joined the Iraqi nuclear program. At the same time, however, serious work on developing nuclear potential designated for use in power engineering, agriculture, medicine, biotechnology, and genetics continues. Industrial incorporation of four explored uranium deposits is planned, including the extraction and enrichment of uranium for subsequent use as fuel for atomic power plants.
In 1975, the U.S. agreed in principle on a program to supply Egypt with power reactors. The U.S. promised to provide Egypt with eight nuclear power plants and the necessary cooperation agreements were signed. The plan was subject to a trilateral safeguards agreement signed by the U.S., the International Atomic Energy Agency, and Egypt. In the late 1970s, the U.S. unilaterally revised the bilateral agreements and introduced new conditions that were unacceptable to the Egyptian government. As a result, the decision was taken to ratify the NPT, with one goal in mind — the implementation of a nuclear power program.
Egypt has subscribed to the NPT. Since 1974, Egypt has taken the initiative of proposing to render the Middle East nuclear-weapons free zone, calling all countries in the region without exception to join the NPT. In April 1990, Egypt took the initiative to render the Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction. The 1991 Madrid Peace Conference established a multinational mechanism to work on making the Middle East a nuclear weapons-free zone. This mechanism, however, stalled three years ago as a result of the Israeli position. In April 1996, Egypt hosted the conference for signing the declaration on rendering Africa a nuclear-weapons free zone.
In late 2004 and early 2005, the IAEA investigated previously undisclosed experiments performed by Egyptian scientists involving uranium metal.
However, the IAEA concluded that the undisclosed experiments performed in Egypt were minor in nature and not substantial enough for the IAEA to feel compelled to take action against Egypt. Egypt was cooperative with the IAEA during the investigation and since then, the IAEA has not had any noted issues with Egypt.
In 2007, President Hosni Mubarak announced plans to relaunch Egypt’s civilian nuclear power program with the construction of four nuclear power plants under IAEA supervision. On Aug. 25, 2010, Mubarak announced that the IAEA had approved the Al-Dabaa site along the Mediterranean coast as an acceptable site for Egypt to build its first nuclear power plant. However, the 2011 Egyptian revolution and Mubarak’s subsequent removal from power have put these plans on hold.
Meanwhile, a senior Iranian lawmaker has said Iran was ready to transfer its know-how and experience in nuclear technology to Egypt, Iranian media reported this week.
Iran and Egypt can do "joint activities in the nuclear field, and Iran is ready to transfer its know-how and experience to Egypt,” Mansour Haqiqatpour, a member of Iran's Majlis (parliament) National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, was quoted as saying by the Fars News Agency on Monday.
Israel has long argued that a nuclear Iran would set off a regional nuclear arms race, as Tehran's traditional rivals in the Middle East — Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, Jordan and the Persian Gulf states — would quickly move to counter the Iranian threat with nuclear weapons programs of their own. The scenario of a volatile, highly-violent Middle East awash with nuclear weapons has kept non-proliferation experts and policymakers both in the region and in Washington awake at night. The threat of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists also rises with the increased availability of the material.