As Bangladesh is going to step into the “middle income” country group, it is going to have another milestone under its belt – installation of its maiden nuclear power plant at Rooppur, Pabna. The Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant (RNPP) will not only be a source of power for the energy-starved nation, but it will also open doors for cutting edge scientific research in many related fields. The power plant will also be pride of the country, whose two neighbours – India and China – have been using atomic energy to generate electricity for a long time.
The country is pacing towards industrialization slowly and steadily. So far power generated from gas, oil, coal and hydro was used to meet country’s burgeoning energy requirements. But lack of sufficient conventional natural energy resources impedes the existing power plants to operate at full capacity. The country’s gas reserve in not that big, which is currently the most used resources to generate power. The alarming news is that the country’s existing gas reserves are depleting and no other alternative and promising gas reserves are found till date. Records suggest that inadequate energy sources force the power generation to limit by nearly 3,000 MW in a year. The country also lacks adequate geographical advantage to harness hydro-electric power. In some cases, Industries tend to shift towards captive power to meet their critical power demand, which is also increasing the production cost, slowing down the growth of industries.
In a situation like this, getting an unrestricted long-term power source having a capacity of 2,400 MW is nothing short of boon for the country’s economy and development. This will be a huge achievement in terms of power generation demand and at the same time it has great importance from the economic perspective as the RNPP project is the costliest ever project in the history of Bangladesh. The cost of RNPP is three times greater than that of the mega project of Padma Bridge. In the recently proposed budget for the fiscal year of 2017-18, the government allotted the highest amount which is 10,136 crore taka in the RNPP as a single project.
But knowing the importance of power, the government has declared it to remain a priority sector for the next three years. RNPP will also revolutionize the transmission and distribution system of the entire electric grid system. Measures are already being taken to upgrade the transmission and distribution system for the RNPP.
Yafes Osman, the Minister of Science and Technology, has recently remarked: “Power is a must to change the lives of people and RNPP is a project which will help us to meet the power demand.” He added that the nuclear power plant would serve the country for a long period and it would help to accelerate the country’s economic growth. The power plant was initially meant to be commissioned by the year of 2023, but the government requested the Russian implementing authority to make the RNPP operational by the year 2021, which is the 50th anniversary year of the Bangladesh’s independence. A request, the Minister said, was accepted by the Russian authorities.
Osman also sought to allay fears regarding safety and security of the power plant as the RNPP will use the latest technology and the Russian President Vladimir Putin himself has reassured the Bangladesh government about its safety record. To create the skilled manpower required to operate the power plant, the government has organized a slew of training courses for the Bangladeshi technicians in India and Russia.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had attended conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) organized at Vienna, Austria in May 2017. Addressing the conference the Bangladeshi premier assured that the country would restrict use of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. The incumbent ruling party had made RNPP its poll promise and now at last the project is seeing the light of the day.
The proposal for Rooppur nuclear plant was first mooted in 1961. The then government acquired some 253.90 acres of land to build the plant. However, owing to many political and financial reasons the implementation of the power plant got stuck at the planning stage. After Bangladesh’s independence, the country got IAEA membership on September 27, 1972. The Government of Bangladesh started a discussion with the Soviet Union in 1974, but, no agreement was reached. Several attempts were made to install 70 MW and 150 MW capacity nuclear power plants at Rooppur, but nothing came to fruition. In 2001 the government adopted a national Nuclear Power Action Plan. In 2007, the United Nations cleared Bangladesh for installing nuclear power plant considering the technical capability and peaceful intention of the country. The UN has cleared only eight developing nations for installing nuclear power plants till the year of 2050.
An agreement for nuclear cooperation was signed with Russia in May 2010. It was followed by an agreement with Russian state-run Rosatom in February 2011 for two MWe-class reactors to be built at Rooppur for the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC). According to the agreement, Rosatom will build two VVER-1200 reactor power plant, having a combined capacity of 2,400 MW. The entire project will cost $12.65 billion of which the Russian government alone will fund $11.38 billion as a loan. The loan amount will have to be paid back within 18 years after commissioning of the power plant.
Russia will also be supplying nuclear fuel and disposing the nuclear waste. The concerned Russian authority will also be responsible for the required human resource development, designing legal framework, financing and of course the main installation. A five stage protection system will be used to safeguard the reactors, the plant will also be earthquake resistant.
Uranium-235 will be fueling the RNPP reactors and the cost per unit of power would be cheaper than the other conventional sources like coal. Simply put one gram of U-235 is capable of generating the same electric power that can be generated by burning 3 tons of coal or 2.6 tons of diesel. The fuel cost of a nuclear power plant for per unit of power is one-third of the coal-based power plants and one-fifth of the gas-fired power plants. Moreover, the entire cost of installing the RNPP will be recovered within 10-15 years from its date of commissioning. Again, the world has more natural reserves of radioactive nuclear fuels than that of the conventional sources like gas, coal or oil.
Science and Technology Secretary Anwar Hossain said: “The RNPP is a matter of pride for Bangladeshis. This will be the biggest force behind the country’s economic development since the independence of the country. The RNPP will also introduce the country in the world with a new tag.” Till date only 31 countries of the world have nuclear power plants, once installed the RNPP will make Bangladesh the 32nd nation in the world to use atomic power.
Nuclear power plants throughout the world generate 370,000 MW of electricity each day. Installation of 70 nuclear power plants is already going on throughout the world including RNPP and installing 160 more nuclear power plants is already planned. India plans to generate as much as 64,000 MW and China is set to generate 200,000 MW from nuclear power within the year of 2030. Bangladesh also has a plan to generate 4,000 MW of power from nuclear fuel by the year of 2030 and the RNPP is the first step in the direction.