With first nuclear power plant, Bangladesh focuses energy on training manpower

On November 30, construction of Bangladesh’s first nuclear power plant commenced and with this the country is now focusing its energy on building a capable and skilled workforce to operate it. The trained manpower will be useful as the South Asian country aims to build more nuclear power reactors in future.

Currently more than 2,200 people work at the site, including 450 Russian specialists. During the main construction phase total number of employees at the site will reach 12,500, including 2,500 specialists from Russia.

Over the last four decades, Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC) has steered the country to achieve significant development in the field of food and agriculture, medicine, industries and environment using nuclear technology. However, the BAEC is now focused on training professionals, who can operate the nuclear power plant, once Russians hand it over to Bangladesh for operations. According to the BAEC estimates, around 1600 technically qualified and trained professionals will be required during the construction phase of the Rooppur Nuclear plant.

The academicians and experts of the country see the need to expand the facilities to impart education in various disciplines of atomic energy within the country. “To operate this nuclear power plant we would need 2100 personnel, out of which 500 will be highly qualified technical personnel. Why only Rooppur, we need more professionals as a plan is already set to install another nuclear power plant,” General Secretary of Bangladesh Physics Society and Professor at Dhaka University Ishtiaque Maoyeen Syed told Nuclear Asia. Nuclear technologies are being taught at the Physics Department of the Dhaka University along with many others universities of the country, which Syed hopes will definitely help to spark interest among the students about the subject.

The BAEC has signed a contract with ASE Group of Companies of Russian Federation on December 25, 2015. Apart from the construction, the contract also covers training of personnel as Nuclear Power Plant is a very complex and sensitive establishment. Many technical personnel are undergoing higher training in Russia.

Speaking to Nuclear Asia in October, Director of Educational Projects and the HR Service, ROSATOM State Atomic Energy Corporation Valery Karezin has said: “At present, around 50 students from Bangladesh study in Russia. This year, the first group of these students is to graduate and go home. We plan to prepare about 100 students specializing in the nuclear industry by the time the Rooppur NPP is commissioned. Overall, the NPP with two power units requires at least 500 specialists with higher education.”

The Russian authorities are also in talks with University of Dhaka, Military Institute of Science and Technology; and Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology for organised exchange of teachers. The two sides are discussing the possibility of organising lectures by Russian professors in Bangladesh varsities.

Besides Russia, India is also imparting training to Bangladeshi nuclear scientists at the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant in Tamil Nadu, which has also been built with Russian assistance. India has collaborated with Russia to also supply and manufacture equipment, material for the nuclear power plant located on the banks of Padma River in the north-west of the country.

Professor at Jahangirnagar University’s Department of Physics, A A Mamun also threw in a word of caution at the huge dependency on other countries in the execution of the project and called for developing indigenous capability for the same. “There remain concerns regarding our own capability to operate the power plant. It is because, as of today, the total installation process of the power plant depends on foreign help…. We should not depend on others to such extent especially in the mega projects like the RNPP,” Mamun said. “We don’t have our own experts in the field of nuclear energy yet. We need to create our own experts. I still hope that we will have that expertise soon,” he added.

Keeping the long-term objective of developing indigenous capability in the view, the Bangladesh government has also chalked out the Human Resource Development programme in the nuclear science and technology field. A couple of universities in the country have already taken initiatives to start nuclear engineering courses at post-graduate level. The Dhaka University has started Nuclear Engineering department for graduate and post-graduate level. The Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, a public university, is also working to start Nuclear Engineering courses at different levels. The BRAC University, a private university has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with BAEC for joint collaboration in the area of nuclear science and technology education. Technical institutions like Polytechnic located in Dhaka are being requested to have appropriate courses on nuclear energy. Therefore some experts see the plant as Bangladesh’s chance to acquire a highly skilled technical force.

“The power plant will also result in highly skilled technical force. The local engineers will have the chance to operate the plant and already their training has started. This power plant will also widen the window of learning, practicing and studying the nuclear science for the Bangladeshi students, engineers, and experts,” said Rashid Sarkar, Director of Engineering and Technology Institute of Nuclear Power Engineering, Dhaka University.

Chairman of Dhaka University’s Department of Nuclear Engineering, Shafiqul Islam concurred with Sarkar. Islam said: “The knowledge of nuclear science is good for the country and it is very important for its future. The implementation of the nuclear power plant of Rooppur will help to advance the study of nuclear science in the country.”

Trained manpower is a requisite for safe operations of the nuclear power plant that consists of two units based on Russian design AES-2006 with VVER-1200 reactors. The reactor design has incorporated the ‘Post-Fukushima’ safety measures.