Thursday, November 15, 2007

Nay to a nuclear Egypt

I'm not exactly a regime-challenging kind of person; hence my avoidance of writing about this matter any earlier than now. But a year later, and all seemingly in place for going forth with the nuclear program, I thought I'd just let my opinion of it be known...

So Egypt's crown-prince-apparent has tacitly announced his nomination for the presidency with his proposal for a nuclear Egypt.

Egypt has a history of illegitimate leaders adopting mass-scale projects as a means of carving out a place in history for their own legitimacy (distracting the focus of local public opinion from their misplaced selves onto a major foreign and disapproving power instead, that is).

35-year-old officer Gamal Abdel-Nasser lacked any form of legitimacy after overthrowing not only the constitutional parliament and parties, but also the respected general of the coup.

So he campaigned, a la method explained above, for the grand project of the High Dam, previously studied and rejected by a succession of democratic parliamentary governments. He totally screwed the Egyptian ecology, agricultural black lands and delta coastline and fisheries in the process – not to mention drowned a people's entire ancestral land which also happened to be a huge percentage of scarce Egyptian arable Nile land - but no matter; he got from it what was important to himself, and that is what really matters in the end.

Unlike the historical case of drama and controversy related to the construction of the High Dam however, the United States comes out this time in favour of Jimmy's nuclear proposal and says, "Sure, no problem, we'll even help you out with it"...which kind of ruins the whole rebelliousness part of the project, and makes it seem, well...a little silly?

Then there is the whole speed factor of the matter - why the rush? Gamal announces the nuclear platform last year and then soon after Al Ahram publishes this headline:

Then right after prints this one the following day:

The initial hype eventually followed with official silence, but gave sudden energy and rise to all sorts of empty causes for obscure officials with nothing better on their hands to do:

Ok, personally I am against this nuclear energy business, peaceful as it may be, for some of the following reasons...

- We don't need it first of all; the High Dam generates more electricity than we need, enough that we apparently export electrical power to our neighbors.

- If we are talking alternative energy here, then what country more than Egypt should be using its all-year-round scorching sun to generate solar energy? If we really have 2 billion dollars to spare on one of many nuclear plants, then how cool would it be to use these kinds of funds to prop up Egypt as a pioneer and world leader in developing and using solar technology, for example, as India now is a leader in the field of IT?

Look at what a country like Spain, which has much less sun than we do, is building and already using to invest in solar energy.

And why shouldn't the vast expanses of the Egyptian desert be flanked with windmills left and right to generate even more electricity?

If it is cleaner energy sources than petroleum that we are looking for, Egypt is supposed to have huge reserves of natural gas...why aren't we using this fuel on a wider scale to clean our environment? Why isn't the government even applying simple traffic regulation laws as a first step to clean our extremely polluted environment?

And who is asking for this project anyway?

Egyptians are supposed to be a simple and peaceful people; I don't think we're exactly the nuclear energy-flaunting kind of folks.

So who is this project meant to please? My guess held that only the most insecure and irrelevant of Egypt's politicians will be happy with this project:

Al-Oqsori ran for president on a platform of not only making Egypt a nuclear power, but the regional hub for exporting nuclear technology to the rest of the Arab world. This platform of his gave me good heartfelt laughs afterwards for a long time to come…but even this good humour I am now sadly deprived of when I eventually heard the government's plans to materialize even part of it into a reality.

El-Tagamu's Rifaat el Said has also jumped on the bandwagon at some point, predictably, describing it as a 'positive proposal'.

Is it perhaps the "prestige" of this project that gives it an extra shine as a leadership model of 'dignity and pride' in the wider Arab world? The politicians should focus on their constituencies' domestic interests here, within the Egyptian borders, not beyond.

You've got to admit that the NDP did a pretty good job in the last presidential elections in eliminating any realistic competition to the president by the funny bunch of people they presented to the public as alternative frontrunners. But then, going with the apparent fad of one-upmanship in Egyptian politics, the NDP decided to go on and announce its platform in outdoing the opposition in their proposed policies, which I had previously deemed as stupid.

And not to feel left out by the grand championship of one-upmanships, the few writers of the opposition who actually are vocal about the nuclear proposal object to it not out of infeasibility of concept or disagreement on principle, but do so in the tradition of an annoying housewife heckling an exhausted husband every night: "Ha! So you say you can do it?? Then hurry up and show me what you can do!"

Which kind of puts a damper on any hope that the NDP was maybe reconsidering its nuclear proposal in its relative year of silence since its initial announcement, and shifts it more into a matter of willpower in the style of Abdel-Fattah el-Ossari in his classic film where he insists: "Ana Ragel, we kelmiti matenzelsh el ard aaabadan!"

And step into the fray of domestic housewives are the classic nutjobs like this Avigdor Lieberman character, who most welcomely fills in the empty role of foreign disapproving power while simultaneously throwing any local skeptics into the basket of “defeatists, imperialists and Zionist pigs.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the NDP, and the political landscape in Egypt in general, to be fair, stole my laughter away.

But no matter! Dark comedy always finds a way of seeping into our collective lives as Egyptians…

Guess who's invited himself to dinner; Yevgeny Primakov drops in for a visit to offer his services the very next day after Egypt announces a legislature for its peaceful nuclear energy program. Who but Chernobyl Russia should we entrust in building our safe nuclear reactors?


Seneferu said...

As one-sided as this post is, I'm in no knowledgeable position to be dismissive of nuclear energy; so if you're all peace with the atom your opinions here would be more than welcome.

عمرو غربية said...

Most of our energy comes from thermal plants using hydrocarbons as fuel. The Hydro-energy from the dams in the South contribute something around 15% of the total energy consumed on the grid.

So, in effect, we are burning natural gas to produce electricity, and this is not good, neither for the planet, nor as a sustainable energy resource.

Nuclear and renewables do not go together. Never mind that nuclear power is the most expensive and dirty even when not considering the real environmental costs--Can you think of a more expensive, complex and dangerous way to boil some water? Experience shows that money put into nuclear are taken from the potential of renewables, and not from fossil fuels. And if you consider the real costs--construction, insurance, capital-concentration, and particularly, safe dismantling 50 years on--nuclear power is the most expensive. Wind is the cheapest, and solar is the energy growing more cheap.

Besides, there is no such thing as peaceful nuclear. That's another myth.

Good write.

Seneferu said...

Thank you for your informative feedback, Amr, and thanks for writing about this issue so early on. I'm now trying to figure out why the rest of the online activists are so adamantly silent about this issue...any clue?

Indeed I also thought the term "safe reactor" is an oxymoron: 'reactor' denotes 'reaction' while 'safe' denotes 'inertness'; how can these two words go together, and how can the latter really contain the former? Now what happens when you give this odd couple a child of 'atomic energy' to parent between the two?

But then again, I'm just an ignorant layman. Hassan Younis knows best.

عمرو غربية said...

I can only blame myself for not popularizing the thing more. I do not know of anyone who writes about environmental issues from a solid environmental perspective on the web in Egypt except this man :)

Greenpeace Med, however, have been having picking up their electronic pace in the region, but I am not anticipating anything serious in Egypt for a good while. There is nothing grass root of course.

Actually, being a layman is an advantage. How about looking for serious and affordable solutions for getting us off the electrical grid? With electricity prices rising just this week, I think it is becoming feasible for a certain segment of society to invest in solar panels.

Seneferu said...

Well it's never too late I'd like to think in this particular case.

Memz said...

Actually, did I just read this right Amro. You said Nuclear energy is the most expensive?

That is actually not true. The difference between Nuclear Powerstation and hydro and/or gas power stations is when do we pay the expense.

Nuclear energy is not expensive; as a matter of fact it is cheaper in the long term than any other form of non renewable energy and more dependable than all forms of renewable energy. The only major cost of nuclear energy is setting up a nuclear station. The cost of running a station is lower than running a gas/hydro station

gas/hydro stations alternatively are very very cheap to build but very expensive to maintain and to produce energy. This is primarily due to their relatively lower efficiency than nuclear and second because of the dramatic and constant changes in the cost of the fuel.

All major economist and analyst agree that the cost of generating a mega watt of energy is cheapest with nuclear energy and most expensive with natural gas.

Environmentally speaking, there is a big fear from nuclear waste, but there are many advances in that field. Newer nuclear generators like the Candu have a much higher efficiency rate and therefore less waste. The more we (humanity) invest in nuclear energy the better incentives will be there for more efficiencies and technological advances.

Memz said...

Sorry forgot to add, for Egypt I support a good diverse mix of energy sources (30% nuclear, 35% hydro/gas and 35% renewable[solar and wind]). This could be a very achievable goal for 2025