Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on November, 30 led Bangladesh towards a future powered by nuclear energy as she formally launched the construction of the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant (RNPP). This has been hailed by experts from the entire Asian region, who hope that other countries in the region will follow the suit.
RNPP is being seen as a ray of hope after the Tsunami-triggered accident in Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan turned public opinion against harnessing the power of the atom.
Dr. Victor Nian, a Research Fellow at the Energy Studies Institute, National University of Singapore said: “November 30, 2017 is a milestone for both Bangladesh and emerging nuclear user-states with the first concrete pouring at the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant. This is yet another major development in nuclear energy post-Fukushima.” He sees the contribution of 2,400 MW of electricity from the two units of the reactor by 2024 as a “timely contribution to address energy supply and decarbonization for Bangladesh”.
Dr. Nian hoped that the project at Rooppur can prove to be a reference point in terms of financing and managing new nuclear power projects in South and Southeast Asia. “More importantly, the project could shed light on policy developments in the area of spent fuel and radioactive waste management in developing economies in South and Southeast Asia through strategic partnership with Russia,” Dr Nian added.
Prime Minister also acknowledged the role that partnership with Russia played in the implementation of the project. “I again express gratitude to the government and people of Russia for the continuous support,” the Prime Minister said at the official ceremony of the first concrete placement at the construction site of energy unit number 1 in the Pabna district in western Bangladesh. The prime minister recalled that when her government took power in 2009 and decided to resume the Rooppur NPP project, which had been discussed since the 1960s, Russia agreed to help to implement it.
“As a true friend, Russia not only provided us with material and moral support during our fight for independence in 1971, but also took part in rebuilding Bangladesh destroyed by the war after we gained independence. I once again express deep gratitude to the people of Russia,” she said.
The coming up of the project is also being seen as imperative to meet the country’s goals of the Paris accord on climate change, especially as the growing population seeks access to electricity to improve quality of life. “Electricity is one of the principal enablers for improving the quality of life. This has seen electricity demand and supply rise rapidly, yet a considerable portion of the population remains without electricity. This needs rapid correction. Commitment to the Paris accord on climate change, requires that a substantial part of new generation added, should be Low Carbon,” said Senior Advisor at World Nuclear Association for India, Middle East and South East Asia, Dr. Shah Nawaz Ahmad.
Applauding the Rooppur nuclear plant Dr. Ahmad said that these advanced VVER nuclear power plants at Rooppur will supply low-carbon, low-cost, reliable, 24×7, electricity safely for a long time to come. He also offered his organisation’s help in facilitating development of civil nuclear power in the country.
Experts from Indonesia and Thailand also sought to draw lessons from the successful realization of the Rooppur nuclear power plant in Bangladesh, the third country in Asia to be opt for nuclear power. Head of Department of Nuclear Engineering in Chulalongkorn University of Thailand, Dr Phongphaeth Pengvanich hailed the Rooppur project as a demonstrator that despite the ‘high upfront capital cost’, Nuclear power is still a ‘viable choice’ for a developing country to get reliable and clean base-load power at high capacity factor and low operating cost.
“For ASEAN countries that are considering NPP, the Rooppur NPP project should be closely examined and learned from because it has several constraints which are similar to ASEAN countries,” Dr. Pengvanich said. He added: “Firstly, it is the first Nuclear Power project for Bangladesh, which is not a technology developer country; new laws, infrastructures, and human resources will be needed. Second, the country has high dependency on natural gas for electricity production. Third, the electricity demand is increasing quickly due to high growth rate. The type of technology selected, the financing scheme, and the project management, which are essential parts of NPP project will also be of interest to other countries.”
Chairman of Energy Commission and National Research Council of Indonesia, Dr. Arnold Soetrisnanto also opined that the archipelago country needs to emulate the path that Bangladesh has set out on to meet its energy needs. “If Indonesia wants to maintain its status as an advanced and sovereign nation, we should take into consideration the experience of Bangladesh and make a firm decision to develop our own nuclear power program,” Dr. Soetrisnanto said.
He also exhorted Indonesia to pay heed to the limitations of the fossil fuel. “Limitations of fossil energy resources and reduced discovery of its new reserves, the national petroleum will be exhausted within 11 years, natural gas in 36 years, and coal in 70 years. In the same period, Indonesia projected industrial growth is above 30 per cent and economy will grow above 7 per cent. This condition certainly threatens the resilience of the national energy and results in disruption of economic and social stability,” he added.
Whether other countries will follow the path of nuclear energy or not, Bangladesh gaining confidence from the Rooppur project has already started to start survey on other sites for its future nuclear power plants.