IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano visited the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant on 3 July 2017. (Photo: S. Kamishima/IAEA)

Electricity, Industry and Development are complementary to each other and imperative for a country’s economic growth. So far power generation in Bangladesh has been struggling to keep pace with the increasing energy demand. In order to keep its growth engine revving, Bangladesh has now signed up for setting up its first 2,400 MW Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant in Pabna.

A 2013 Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) research projected that the country’s economic growth in macro-level would stand at a figure of 107 million BDT (Bangladeshi taka) instead of just 46 million once the power generation would be enhanced by just 1 million kW (considering the market value of 1995-96). Bangladesh aims to be a developed nation by 2040 and the current acceleration in electricity generation capacity is not enough to meet that goal. Hence, the need to look for other sources of energy, like nuclear. Twenty percent of its population is still without electricity coverage. Lack of adequate gas supply and its depleting reserves have been forcing power plants to limit their production. The crisis worsens in the summer and load-shedding is frequent. This proves to be a dampener for investors.

The proposed nuclear power plant in Rooppur can be a game changer for the South Asian country that has one of the highest population densities in the world. The power generated from a nuclear plant will not only be cheaper than that from other sources, but will also be advantageous as the nuclear fuel has longer lasting reserves compared to other conventional sources.

Bangladesh’s Power Report Card

Bangladesh has been adding to its conventional power generation capacity, but the sector experts say that it will not be enough to meet the demands of its burgeoning economy needed to sustain its large population. The Bangladesh government, which has been heavily subsidizing the power sector for the past couple of years is expected to continue to incur heavy cost to keep the sector afloat. In the fiscal year 2017-18 the allocated budget of eight thousand and five hundred crore BDT is likely to fall short as the country will need to import Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG).

According to Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin, the President of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI), : “New investments are coming regularly but still it is not enough due to the prevailing crisis of gas and electricity in the industrial sector. There will be more investments once the government can manage to meet the demands of power and gas to the sector.”

Dhaka has ambitious plans to bring power to every household in the country by 2021 and in pursuance of the goal the power sector has been accorded high priority in the latest budget. The high priority will continue to be so in the coming years as well. According to the Medium-term macroeconomic policy statement of the government, there is a plan to raise the budget allocation in the power sector by 20.6 percent for the upcoming three fiscal years. The power sector may get 225.53 billion BDT alone in the Financial Year of 2019-20. The government has also revised its goals in the power sector and now it plans to generate 24,000 MW of electricity instead of 20,000 MW by the year 2021.

In order to meet the envisaged goals the country will need to import primary fuel such as LNG, coal or oil as it does not have enough reserves of natural resources. The under-construction power plant of Rampal having a capacity of 1,320 MW will burn coal imported from Australia and India to generate electricity. Besides, Bangladesh will be collaborating with China to jointly construct another 1,320 MW coal-fired power plant at Paira and it will also be fuelled by imported coal. Four different LNG-based power plant are also proposed to be built at Maheshkhali with the financial assistance from Malaysia, South Korea and Singapore. Bangladesh is also considering trans-border power connectivity with the neighbouring countries as it is already doing with India.

With its proven gas reserve likely to be finished by 2030, Bangladesh is likely to be dependent on neighbouring countries for its power or primary fuel. The country has some mentionable coal reserve but utilizing that reserve may damage a lot of farming land. The country doesn’t have enough geographic prospect to generate electricity from the wind and equipment to generate solar power is still costly. Considering all these factors nuclear power is going to be the most cost effective for the country in the long run.

“The government has already taken so many initiatives to address the problem of gas and electricity. The nuclear power plant of Rooppur would solve the problem of the power crisis in the sector which will ensure more investment and thus it will create more employment,” Mohiuddin told the Nuclear Asia while urging the government for timely completion of the Rooppur plant while maintaining the highest security possible.

Rooppur Power Plant – Impetus to Economic Growth

Experts are unanimous in their opinion that nuclear power is the panacea for Bangladesh’s energy starved industrial sector and its economic woes.

Bangladesh not only need power for its industrial sector but also for agriculture and its growing Ready-made Garments (RMG) sector that is the source of livelihood for millions of its citizens. The country has realised that providing power to sectors like agriculture (especially in irrigation) with priority basis has yielded rich dividends as Bangladesh that used to spend more than 1 billion USD in importing rice before 2010 is now steadily moving towards becoming a rice exporter. RMG sector is also heavily dependent on power and providing electricity to it on a priority basis has ensured its further expansion.

Mohammad Hossain, the Director General of Power Cell, while speaking to the Nuclear Asia opined: “Electricity is a must for the industrial development of any country. The Rooppur nuclear power plant will surely accelerate the growth of the country’s industrial sector and thus it will contribute to the national economic development.”

Rooppur nuclear power plant that will be constructed through trilateral cooperation between Bangladesh, Russia and India will be located in Pabna city, the industrial hub of the country that has an exclusive industrial zone since 1962. Presently, there are around 170 heavy, medium and light industries in the zone making Pabna one of the most industrialized cities of Bangladesh. “For the industrial sector of Pabna to thrive, nuclear power plants like Rooppur are much needed,” Rekha Rani Balo, the Deputy Commissioner of Pabna said. She added that, the 2,400 Mw nuclear power plant of Rooppur will revolutionize the industrial sector throughout the country.