Nuclear power to play important role in Bangladesh’s economy: Science & Technology Secretary

Secretary of the Science and Technology Ministry Anwar Hossain
Secretary of the Science and Technology Ministry Anwar Hossain

Riding on the important success achieved by Bangladesh economy as it walked into the ‘Developing Country’ category, the country is now outlining the course of its new development stage by focusing on power generation through nuclear energy. The country’s Secretary of the Science and Technology Ministry Anwar Hossain spoke to Nuclear Asia about how the government intends to augment the Bangladesh’s power generation capacity and deal with the issues of skilled manpower and technology required to operate the nuclear power plants.

Read the complete interview here –

Bangladesh has recently been upgraded to a ‘Developing’ country status. In this context, what kind of role a nuclear power plant is likely to play in the economic growth?

Electricity is the key driving force of the economy of any country. An uninterrupted power supply is essential for the socio-economic development of all the modern countries. The escalation in the country’s capacity to generate power from 5,000 MW to 16,500 MW in the recent few years has helped the country to upgrade from being a ‘Least Developed Country’ to being a ‘Developing’ country within such a short time. In collaboration with the Russian Federation, Bangladesh is building its first nuclear power plant. The plant is likely to generated 1200 MW power in the year 2023 and will add another 1200 MW to its capacity by 2024. So, a total of 2400 MW of power will be added to the country’s national grid from this power plant, which is expected to play an important role in meeting the country’s electricity needs. This will accelerate the country’s development for sure.

Currently, Bangladesh has planned to increase its power generation capacity according to the government’s Vision 2021, SDG 2030 and Vision 2041. Considering these goals, the government has set electricity production target as much as 24,000 MW by the year of 2021; 40,000 MW in 2030 and 60,000 MW in 2041. To meet the country’s growing electricity demand, the government has updated the Power System Master Plan in 2010. The government extended the master plan for up to 2041 and updated the Power System Master Plan accordingly in 2016. In this version of the master plan, the government has adopted the principle of multi-purpose energy use by reducing dependence on the single source-energy, which in Bangladesh’s case is natural gas.

Nuclear power is safe, reliable, cost-effective and environmentally friendly, contributing significantly to the global energy mix. The under-construction Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant will be a base load power plant which will be operating for the whole 24 hours. Once launched, the power plant will play an important role in meeting the growing demand for electricity. This power plant will create opportunities for employment of about 20,000 people directly or indirectly. Thus, the nuclear power plant will also help to improve the living standard of the countrymen and will play important role in the country’s GDP growth. This is how the power plant is expected to play a positive role in the economy of Bangladesh.

Do you think that, a nuclear power plant like this will help to keep the power price affordable for the masses of the country?

The RNPP will house instruments of latest technologies including reactors of VVER-1200 class which is a 3rd generation+ reactor. Its lifetime is minimum 60 years extendible to 80 years. On the other hand, traditional fossil-fuel based power plants have a lifetime of highest 25 years. Uranium-235 will be used as the fuel of the reactors of the RNPP. One gram of U-235 can be used to generate up to 24 KW of power in the VVER-1200 reactors. Where the traditional fossil-fuel based power plants will require typically 3-tonnes of coal to generate same amount of power. Moreover, the cost of operation and operation of nuclear power plants are more cost-effective than any fossil fuel based power plants. As a result, the price of the power generated from this power plant will be affordable for the mass of Bangladesh.

Will there be more nuclear power plants in Bangladesh?

Apart from the RNPP, there will be two more nuclear power plants having 2400 MW capacity by the year 2031 and 2 other units having additional capacity of 2,400 MW by 2041.

How much of the national demand of power will be met by nuclear power?

According to the updated Power System Master Plan of 2016 as much as 10-12 percent of the total demand for power of the country is expected to be fulfilled by nuclear power.

Bangladesh have no experience in operating any nuclear power plant, so there are almost no expert human resource. However, trainings have started to create some skilled manpower for the plant. Do you think these measures are enough?

About 3,000 people will be recruited in different steps for proper operation and implementation of the RNPP. According to the General Contract with the Russian authority, from 2017 to 2022, a total of 1,424 people will be trained depending on their job position and job function to meet international standards. The manpower that is currently being trained in the Russian Federation under this contract will be deployed at the power plant for maintaining and operating the RNPP from the very beginning of the commissioning of the power plant. The remaining manpower will be provided gradual training in Bangladesh.

In order to build the targeted human resources, 60 students were sent to Moscow Engineering Physics Institute (MEPhI) in Russian Federation under special scholarship for higher education in nuclear engineering. The first batch of the students will return to the country after September 2018 and will join directly at RNPP. This program will continue till 2022. Along with this, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is arranging various short-term training programs under its Integrated Working Plan (IWP).

In order to build skilled manpower, assistance is also being taken from the neighboring India as they have experience in operating nuclear power plants. Already 88 technical officers are trained

In India on Foundation Course on Nuclear Energy. More than 55 officers have already gone in the last month for more trainings in India. Therefore, I think, the training program for creating manpower is appropriate.

Many people are concerned about the waste of the nuclear power plant. How will they be addressed?

The highest priority is given for nuclear security in the construction of RNPP. This project adheres to all the local and international standards. The place is selected after evaluating the flood history of that area for a tenure of past 100 years. The reactors of the power plant will be tolerant of earthquakes of 8 to 9 scale. The RNPP is designed using the learnings from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant. A five-level safety feature will be there at the reactor. There is no chance for the radioactivity to spread out. Again, the Russian Federation will be taking the nuclear wastages and a deal is already signed with Russia in last August regarding this matter. Under this agreement, all the nuclear wastages will be sent back to Russia. As a result, there is no danger associated with the radioactive wastages from the power plant.

Along with ensuring safety and security of the plant, there are also some issues that deals with the protection of the environment. How much importance are you giving here?

While building the RNPP, the issue of environmental protection along with nuclear security is also being considered very seriously. Uranium-235 will be used in this power plant, which does not emit carbon, sulfur and nitrogen and other similar compounds to the environment. Therefore, this power plant will play an important role in mitigating the effects of hydrocarbon compounds on the environment and climate. The power plant has already got its clearance from the Directorate of Environment. In addition to the Directorate of Environment, Bangladesh Atomic Energy Control Authority is also handling the environmental aspects of the power plant.

How much the construction of the RNPP has progressed so far? Will it be able to start operation within due time?

The construction of the power plant is going on according to the schedule. The first phase of the project has been completed and the main work has already started. It is expected that, the first unit of this power plant will start generating 1200 MW by 2023 and the second one will start its operation by 2024 adding another 1200 MW to the capacity.

How about the progress in developing the other infrastructures that includes transmission line, sub-station? Will they be able to meet schedule?

Power Grid Company Bangladesh Limited (PGCB) has started the construction of transmission line for connecting RNPP with the National Grid. The work is expected to be finished within scheduled time.

Some says that, the cost of building this power plant is higher than the cost in the neighboring countries. What is your opinion about that?

The cost of building the RNPP is similar compared to the construction cost of a nuclear power plant in the neighboring countries. The cost of building a nuclear power plant for the first time can be considered balanced in this international market scenario.

To enhance nuclear research in the country another new reactor is to be set up in the country. How is the government proceeding with it?

A plan is taken to carry out a feasibility study and then establish a research reactor at Savar having 20-30 MW capacity by the year of 2021. The research reactor will be installed for facilitating better research environment in the country and it will help to build manpower in the country.

Apart from power generation nuclear research is being used in agriculture. Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA) has revolutionized the agriculture sector utilizing nuclear research. Have you any new plan for nuclear research in the field of agriculture and medical science?

Besides electricity generation, there are 14 INMAS (Institute of Nuclear Medicine & Allied Sciences) and one NINMAS (National Institute of Nuclear Medicine & Allied Sciences) in the country. These institutes are offering medical services under the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission. These institutes have sophisticated equipment that are used to diagnose and treat various diseases including bone mineral densitometry, various types of scintigraphy, kidney, and digestion, respiratory and cardiovascular system. There are eight more INMAS centers that are currently under development. We have plans to install INMAS centers in all medical college hospitals and district hospitals of the country gradually. Besides, we are modernizing and upgrading our existing centers.

Eight new hospitals are also selected to house INMAS and offer nuclear medicinal services. The newly selected eight hospitals that are to offer nuclear medicinal services are Sher-e-Bangla Shaheed Shuhrawardy Medical College of Agargaon of the city, National Institute of Chest Disease and Hospital of Mohakhali, Dhaka, Sheikh Sayera Khatun Medical College of Gopalganj, and the medical colleges of Pabna, Kustia, Jessore, Cox’s bazaar and Shatkhira. The newly installed eight INMAS will house ultra-modern technologies in the field of nuclear medicine. These institutes will house Spect-CT, Spect, BMD, Radio Imunisasi Uptake system, Color Doppler machine, automatic Gamma counter, Thyroid camera, Thyroid uptake system and so on. There is also a plan to install the latest technology 2 PET-CT scan machines in BSMMU, 1 in DMC, 1 in Mymensingh and 1 in Chittagong medical college hospitals. A cyclotron production unit is already on the way to be installed in BSMMU.

Tell us something about the overall picture of the use of nuclear science in our country.

Bangladesh is committed to the peaceful use of atomic energy. The construction of the RNPP is going on in full swing under the inter-state agreement between Bangladesh and the Russian Federation. This project is being implemented by following all the local and international standards and the maintenance of local and international atomic energy commissions. Through implementing the RNPP, Bangladesh has become a proud member of the World Nuclear Club, which has lifted the status of Bangladesh in the world. The power plant will not only be limited to meeting the demand of the country’s growing electricity, but will also play an important role in the socio-economic development of the country by creating opportunities for employment of the people of this country. The power plant will be considered as an important milestone in formation of the ‘Sonar Bangla’ – a dream of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.