Amid COVID-19, Bangladesh completes 30% construction of first nuclear plant

Construction of  Bangladesh’s first nuclear power plant at Rooppur (RNPP) continues in full swing despite the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, with equal attention being paid to maintaining proper health standards and hygiene

As on date, the RNPP project has completed 30 percent of its total work, while the government has also reinforced the foreign workforce in a bid to meet the construction deadline. RNPP sources told Nuclear Asia that the project, which initially faced difficulties in transportation and imports owing to the COVID-19 lockdown, managed to resolve these issues quickly, thus, allowing the project works to maintain the necessary momentum.

The containment wall of the first reactor building has been erected. Additional workers have been hired to continue the welding work. The construction of the first reactor building is expected to be completed by the end of this year. All the instruments of the first reactor unit, which are being made in Russia, will arrive at the project site within 2020. Construction of the second building will be completed by next year.

A ‘truss’, which is a welded metal support structure, has been installed at the reactor building of the second unit of the RNPP. The ‘support truss’ is one of the most important elements of the reactor pit equipment. It has many radial beams. The main function of this support truss is to hold the reactor vessel firmly in position in the event of any accident or disaster, including earthquakes. The structure is designed to withstand thermal and radiation exposure over a period of 60 years, that is, the entire lifetime of the reactor.

The infrastructure for installing the reactor pressure vessel of the second unit has been completed. The height of the internal  containment infrastructure will be 61.6 meters. Of these, the construction of 20 meters has been completed so far. The construction of the external containment structure, which will have a height of 64.5 meters, is in progress simultaneously.

The construction of the 30-meter underground infrastructure has also been completed. A core catcher has been installed. This core catcher is an important part of the automated safety system of a nuclear power plant. All the equipment, including the reactor, is being built in Russia by its state atomic energy corporation Rosatom. Work on installing the reactor of the first unit will begin this year.

To prevent spread of the coronavirus infection in the RNPP area, the concerned authorities are working as per the guidelines of both the Bangladesh government and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Health and epidemiological safety regulations are being followed in the entire project area. The authorities are checking temperatures of all the personnel working in the project site on a daily basis, and are sending those detected with high temperature to compulsory quarantine. These personnel are only brought back to work once they are confirmed to be fully healthy. There are separate doctors for both Bangladeshi and Russian personnel. The doctors are conducting regular checkups, thus, keeping the total workforce under continuous observation.

In order to follow the rules of social distancing, the workers have been divided into several groups, or shifts, working at different time-shifts over a 24-hour period. Social distancing is also being ensured during dining times in the canteens. If anyone falls sick, all others in that shift are placed in compulsory quarantine, and that particular shift is reintroduced to work with a new group of personnel.

The Managing Director (MD) of the operator Nuclear Power Plant Company Bangladesh Ltd, Mohammed Shawkat Akbar, told Nuclear Asia that he has lately increased the pace of the work on the RNPP. The construction of the reactor building is in progress ahead of schedule, he said. He also said that the project has completed 30 percent of the work, as well as made 27 percent of progress on the financial side.  According to the MD, the project has now separate accommodation facilities for the quarantined personnel, while coronavirus tests has been made mandatory for all personnel coming from abroad.

So far, 78 Russian experts have returned home. On the other hand, 570 personnel have recently arrived from Russia aboard three chartered flights. Another 11 personnel have come from Germany, while 61 more from India have been given permission to enter the country for working at the RNPP project. About 750 more Russian experts will arrive in Bangladesh between July-August. Around 8,000 people are involved on a daily basis in the RNPP construction work, of whom 1,600 are Russians.

The first unit, with a capacity of 1,200 MW, is expected to begin operation by 2023, the project sources said. The second unit of equal capacity is expected to be commissioned in 2024. The office of the Bangladesh Prime Minister and other concerned ministries are continuously monitoring the ongoing construction of the Green City which will house the workforce that will be required for the operation of the RNPP.