Egypt says Russia to help revive nuclear program

Russia will help Egypt develop its nuclear power program, Trade and Industry Minister Hatem Saleh said on Monday, signaling that the Islamist-led state will press ahead with its quest for atomic energy.

Egypt froze its nuclear program after the 1986 nuclear disaster at Chernobyl, but in 2006, the government of deposed President Hosni Mubarak announced it would revive the program.

Five months before Mubarak was swept from power in February 2011, his administration announced plans for an international bidding process to build Egypt's first nuclear power station at Dabaa near the Mediterranean coast.

The agreement on Russian support was reached during a visit to Russia by President Mohamed Morsy last week.

"We spoke on this issue and agreed that the Russians will help us in conducting studies at the Dabaa nuclear station and to develop the experimental reactor in Anshas," Saleh said.

"There will be a Russian delegation to lay out the details of these issues as soon as possible," he added.

Russia's Energy Minister Alexander Novak was quoted by Russian news agencies on Friday as saying Egypt had proposed that Russia participate in construction of a nuclear power plant and in development of the country's uranium deposits.

Morsy met Russian President Vladimir Putin last week during an official visit to Russia. Saleh denied that Egypt had sought financial support from Russia to ease a severe economic crisis, which saw its foreign reserves drop to a critical low of US$13.4 billion in March, less than three months' worth of imports.

Egypt has also been talking to the International Monetary Fund about a US$4.8 billion loan to prop up the economy, shattered by the turbulent transition from Mubarak's rule that has driven away tourists and investors alike, as well as accepting help from Arab allies and emerging powers.

Qatar and Libya have agreed to provide US$5 billion in support. Turkish economic officials and banking sources have said Ankara will transfer within two months the remaining US$1 billion of US$2 billion it pledged last year.

Russian officials said on Friday that Moscow would consider an Egyptian loan request — which one Moscow-based source had put at US$2 billion — and that it might also increase grain supplies to Egypt if its harvest reached target level this year.

However, in response to a question on the loan, Saleh said: "There was no request or plea for any assistance from the Russian side and what you heard in some of the media is news that does not deserve a response and is untrue."

When asked about the loan from Russia on Friday, Saleh said: "We have reached no conclusion on that loan."

He also said Egypt had not requested aid in the form of wheat. Typically the world's biggest importer of wheat, Egypt has cut back on wheat imports this year and is hoping for a bumper crop that the agriculture minister said on Sunday could be close to 11.023 million metric tons.

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