Nuclear Revival in North Africa? Developments in Algeria, Libya and Egypt

This paper explores nuclear science and technology through the prism of three North African case studies: Algeria, Egypt and Libya. All three countries have constructed research reactors, albeit in different periods. Egypt’s first research reactor – acquired from the Soviet Union – became operational in 1961, and it built another one in 1992. Algeria also has two research reactors, supplied by Argentina and China in the late 1980s. Libya, meanwhile, has a Soviet-designed research reactor, constructed in 1981. Accordingly, all three countries have bureaucratic and legislative infrastructure to manage nuclear science and technology, as well as institutions and centres focusing on nuclear safety, support, training and expertise. This paper analyses and contrasts their capabilities and technologies, while paying attention to instances of collaboration between the three North African countries on nuclear science and technology. In addition to existing nuclear infrastructure, the paper also looks at historical and future plans for nuclear power plants in the three countries. Egypt’s plans to build the Al Dabaa nuclear power plant are currently underway, after having signed an agreement with Russia to build four reactors. This comes after a long history of failed plans to build nuclear power plants. Libya has a similar – albeit more controversial – history with nuclear technology, which includes discussions with Soviet, French and Belgian firms to build a reactor, and a clandestine nuclear weapons programme that was ultimately rolled back in 2003. Even while Libya was embroiled in a civil war, the Libyan Atomic Energy Establishment was still discussing national plans for a first nuclear power plant, although tentatively. Algerian officials, similarly, have sought to lay the groundwork for nuclear energy in the coming decades. This paper outlines these plans, how they are presented to the public, and how citizens have reacted.