Bangladesh Navy to dredge rivers for ferrying heavy equipment for Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant

The Bangladesh Navy has been roped in to dredge the 110 km-long river route from Chittagong-Mongla-Pakshi, via Chandpur-Mawa-Gualanda to the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant (RNPP) to make it deep enough for ferrying heavy equipment for the plant. The transportation of the equipment is expected to begin in the second half of the next year, a Bangladesh daily reported.

A Bangladesh newspaper The Independent reported that the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority (BIWTA) has awarded the contract of dredging the waterways to the Bangladesh Navy at an estimated budget of Tk 895 crore (USD 107.4 million) and the force will be responsible for providing security on the river route till 2025. “It is an important project and the Navy is being assigned the task of ensuring safe transportation of heavy equipment to the RNPP site. Navy will also monitor and look after the river route till 2025,” Chairman of the BIWTA Commodore M Mozammel Huq was quoted by the newspaper.

Bangladesh had mooted a nuclear power plant in the west of the country in 1961. The site in the Pabna district was approved in 1963. And after decades of waiting, the country is now gearing up to have two nuclear power plants with the first one to go operational by 2023 under a trilateral collaboration with Russia and India.

The river route would be dredged to increase depth up to four metres. The BIWTA Chief, while accepting that the project was delayed a bit, told the Independent that the navy has been directed to deploy 16 dredgers so that the route is ready to ferry equipment by June 2018. “Transportation of heavy equipment for the RNPP will begin in the second half of 2018. We have already requested the BIWTA to make it ready for transport by June-July in 2018,” RNPP Project Director Mohammad Shawkat Akbar said concurring with the BIWTA Chief. The Navy has already started the project.

According to BIWTA, about 100 lakh cubic metres of silt have to be removed in the first year to keep the route navigable throughout the year from Mongla and Chittagong seaports to the RNPP site. Besides, 35-45 lakh cubic metres of silt should be dredged every year under maintenance dredging, the Independent quoted the sources in BIWTA. In view of the importance of the project the Navy will carry out capital dredging for two years and thereafter maintenance dredging in the “stiff rivers” – the Padma and Meghna river beds, which are “unstable and morphologically dynamic”.

The project has been undertaken after a report prepared by BIWTA that contended that the lack of navigable river routes will hinder the transportation of heavy equipment from ports to the site of the nuclear power plant in Rooppur. The depth of the water for the first 50 km out of the 415 km from Chittagong, and for 60 km out of the 450km from Mongla seaport to the RNPP site drops to only 1–1.5 metres during the dry season, as per the report. However, at least five-metre depth would be required to transport the heavy equipment.

Following this Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina ordered the Ministry in 2016 to take requisite steps to dredge the routes from Chittagong and Mongla seaports.

Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission had inked a deal with the Russia`s Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation to set up two nuclear power plants, each with a capacity of 1,200 megawatt, involving a total investment of $12.65 billion. As per the deal, the Russian company is likely to start bringing its heavy equipment from May 2018 to the RNPP site. The nuclear power plants are important for Bangladesh as 20 per cent of its population is without electricity and the government has ambitious plans to make the whole country accessible to the power grid by 2021.