Nature Middle East | House of Wisdom

Research nuclear reactor in Egypt leaks

<img alt=“nuclear sign.jpg” align=right src=“http://blogs.nature.com/houseofwisdom/images/nuclear%20sign.jpg” width=“250” height=“250” />A small, two-megawatt nuclear reactor on the outskirts of Egypt suffered a leak for the second time in less than a year, raising concerns about its safety.

The Anshas nuclear reactor is a 50-year-old Russian-built reactor from the Soviet Union era. It is a research reactor that has been running since Egypt began a nuclear program in the mid-1950’s that was scrapped after the Chernobyl disaster. There is only one other, 22-megawatt nuclear reactor operational in Egypt.

The daily Al-Masry Al-Youm reports that Samer Mekheimar, the former director of the Nuclear Research Center’s atomic reactions department, blames the leak, which took place in 25 May, on lax safety measures.

Mohammed El-Qulali, of the Egyptian Nuclear Organization told Al-Masry Al-Youm the problem rose due to a lack of coordination between the engineers working at the reactor and the teams responsible for the safeguards in place.

“The operation did not go according to the rules and there was over confidence by some (engineers), which led to such a sizable problem,” he said.

The leak in April led to shut down of the reactor after a cooling pump broke. Experts from the U.N. nuclear watchdog later visited the site and issued recommendations for upgrading the reactor.

These were largely ignored by the government, however, and the reactor continued operation until it leaked again.

Now these two events raise important questions with regards to Egypt’s nuclear future. Egypt has announced a few years ago its plans to reactivate its nuclear programme. In fact, the government (despite wide debates and a public outcry) had already chose a location for the first nuclear reactor which would supply some of the electricity needs of the fast-growing country.

The problems both seem to arise from bad safety measures, but nuclear reactors are no joke. A meltdown can be disastrous and nobody is above the danger. Japan, a country with some of the strictest rules on safety, had a disaster at hand with the Fukushima nuclear reactor following the devastating earthquake and tsunami.

Is Egypt ready for a full-fledged nuclear reactor? Are two failures in a small research nuclear reactor a warning sign that things need to change before nuclear energy becomes a viable choice in Egypt? Or maybe the calls of environmentalists that the country should scrap nuclear plants and focus on solar energy should be heeded?

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