The ceremony of first concrete pouring into the reactor building of the Bangladesh’s maiden Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant (RNPP) will take place on November 30. It is a momentous occasion for a country looking at atomic energy to spur its industrial growth and take it into a middle income nation by 2021. Ahead of the milestone, Bangladesh’s Minister for Science and Technology Yafes Osman spoke to Nuclear Asia to clarify the skepticism regarding safety of the nuclear power and spell out its benefit for the country.
At last Bangladesh is going to begin construction of the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant. How important is the project for Bangladesh?
This is a historical moment as being a nuclear nation is a matter of pride. Many, including our own countrymen and foreigners, have doubted that we could make such progress. Now Bangladesh has showed the world that it has the capability and everybody is now appreciating the country.
This is the outcome of the confidence that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is ruling the country with. Her confidence has also accelerated the development of other sectors. She has given us the mental strength to make this project happen and soon the construction will begin.
Bangladesh is opting for nuclear technology at a time when many other countries have decided to move away from it. This creates a certain amount of skepticism regarding nuclear energy. How would you seek to dispel it?
After the Fukushima accident many countries wanted to shift from nuclear power technology. However, at the end it was found that the accident resulted in no casualties or injuries. But it was the Tsunami that caused death of over 25,000 people. The human or technological element of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident was negligible.
The rumour of veering away from nuclear power seems more like a premeditated strategy of a particular lobby with vested interests to whip up opposition against nuclear energy across the globe. Security, safety and other technological risk factors related to a nuclear power plant were never a concern.
Was there any obstruction that the country had to face to enter this phase?
There are always some obstacles in implementation of such projects, but it is good that we have found two of our tested friends besides us, who were also with us during our Liberation War. This is why we could overcome the obstacles more easily. Russia and India are the two states, who have been constantly supporting us to resolve issues around the nuclear power plant.
Russia with its latest technology is going to build this power plant for us and they are also giving us a loan to build this plant. Again, India is our immediate neighbour and has experience in nuclear energy field. We are taking assistance and training from India to make our own workforce of professional and expert. Besides, the contractor firm for this project is a Russian state-run firm and because of all this cooperation the project has advanced so much.
Bangladesh has no experience in operating any nuclear power plant and thus has no skilled manpower as well. What are the measures that the Government is taking to address these issues?
We are working on developing skilled manpower to operate this power plant. Seventy Bangladeshi students have already been sent to Russia for higher studies on nuclear power. They will be working at the Russian nuclear power plant for a duration of two years after completion of their study. They will return to the country once they finish these courses and 50 more students will be sent very soon. Besides, some of the female technicians will be sent to India to take training and higher studies and this kind of programs of training up and enhancing skill of our local manpower will go on. Our manpower will be more and more skilled as time passes by.
How about the skills of our local manpower that are involved in the construction of the infrastructure?
Russia is assisting us by providing manpower along with our local manpower. However, most of the construction processes will be automated and machine driven. Cement, sand and water will be mixed by machines according to the calculations done by computers. So, there is no chance of error. Most of the phases are mechanized and 63 different machines will be used in the construction. The temperature of the site will also be controlled by a computer.
Many are concerned about the wastes generated from the nuclear power plant. How is Bangladesh going to deal with nuclear waste?
Two separate deals are already signed to ensure safe and secure management of the nuclear waste. No country has ever signed such deals to ensure proper management of the waste. Russia will take back the wastes and it will be of no problem for us at all. We are giving highest priority to security and safety and taking every measure that ensures the top class safety and security of the plant and the people.
Along with ensuring safety, there is also the issue of environmental protection. What steps are being taken in this direction?
Yes, we are working on that too. We have observed the environment and have taken all the necessary measures to protect it. Biodiversity, river water, soil and vegetation of the adjacent area will be protected. The area will remain green. Fish farming will sustain as before in that area.
Bangladesh is spending more to install this nuclear power plant compared to its neighbouring country. Why is it so?
We are likely to get power for a time-span of 100 years from this power plant. So, the primary investment may seem higher but you have to consider it in the long-term. However, we have negotiated and bargained with everyone in terms of cost, so there is no chance of paying extra cost.
Bangladesh is installing a nuclear power plant. How do you see this event in the historical context and for the future generations?
There is no alternative to nuclear power for the development of the country. The power plant will not only meet our power demand, but will also be an image boost for the country as Bangladesh will become 32nd nation in the world to use nuclear power. Bangladesh is committed to the peaceful usage of atom.
Electricity has changed lives of many of our countrymen. It allowed people to do more. In the recent past when there was no electricity, people in the villages used to sleep at the early night as there was nothing to do. But, now they are involved in many productive activities. Electricity has changed the lifestyle of all the people of the country. This power plant will play a significant role in materializing the government’s goal of making Bangladesh a middle income country by 2021 and a developed country by 2041.