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Nuclear Weapons Program

Egypt has not engaged in significant efforts to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Evidently Egypt has decided to concentrate on increasing conventional forces, and chemical and biological weapons, rather than developing nuclear weapons.

The Egyptian nuclear program was launched in 1954. Egypt acquired its first nuclear reactor from the Soviet Union in 1961. The two megawatt reactor was opened by President Gamal Abdel-Nasser at Inchass, in the Nile Delta. The Soviets controlled the disposal of this small nuclear research reactor's spent fuel, which 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 (NPT) 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 United States agreed in principle on a program to supply Egypt with power reactors. The US 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 United States, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and Egypt. In the late 1970s, the US 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.

Although financing problems stalled construction of power reactors from the United States, Egypt ratified the NPT in 1981, in order to be able to conclude agreements with other countries for the construction of atomic energy-production facilities. Before his assassination in 1981, President Anwar Sadat announced plans to build two nuclear power stations along the Mediterranean coast. However, these plans were subsequently shelved. There are (poorly attested) reports that Egypt is planning a Chinese-made power reactor, variously assessed at between 300 MW and 600 MW, that could have the capacity to produce material for the production of as many as four nuclear warheads a month. Egypt is believed to be seeking joint nuclear weapons research with Syria and Saudi Arabia to defray costs and allow Egypt to continue its conventional military buildup.

In early 1992, a deal was made for Argentina to deliver one more reactor with a capacity of 22 megawatts to Egypt. The contract signed in 1991 for the delivery to Egypt of a Russian MGD-20 cyclotron accelerator remains in force. Since 1990 Egypt has been a member of the Arab Power Engineering Organization uniting 11 countries. A number of Egyptian scientific projects are being carried out under the aegis of the IAEA. There are bilateral agreements in the area of the peaceful use of atomic energy with Germany, the United States, Russia, India, China, and Argentina. There are, moreover, agreements with Great Britain and India to provide assistance in training national cadres for scientific research and work on the country's atomic enterprises.

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 weapon-free zone. This mechanism, however, stalled three years ago as a result of the Israeli position. Egypt hosted in April 1996 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 August 25, 2010, President 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.

Since the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, various claims have been made that with Mubarak out of power, a future Egyptian government could change the current stance against pursuing nuclear weapons. The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s oldest Islamic organization and one of the few political parties that opposed the Mubarak regime has remained silent for many years on the issue of nuclear weapons. Most analysts believe that a new Egyptian government will not pursue nuclear weapons due to financial constraints as well as Egypt’s leading position in the movement for a nuclear-weapons free zone in the Middle East.

Sources and Resources

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Maintained by Steven Aftergood and Jonathan Garbose
Originally created by John Pike
Updated May 30, 2012