Bangladesh’s dream for own nuclear plant takes its origin back in 1961. The initiative, taken by the then government to set up a 50 MW nuclear power plant at the Rooppur village of Pabna district was very far-sighting and pragmatic. Some practical steps were also taken including acquisition of required land on the bank of river Padma, conducting of feasibility studies, formal negotiations with a number of foreign countries, but without any further progress. Bangladesh had to wait for over half a century for the dream started taking some real shape.
That was 2007, when Russia expressed its intention to implement a nuclear power project in Bangladesh. Things started moving again. In May 2010, Bangladesh and Russia signed an agreement on co-operation for peaceful use of nuclear energy.
Following that, in November 2, 2011 during the visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Russia an inter-governmental agreement was signed on co-operation for setting up of a nuclear power plant in Bangladesh. Russian President Vladimir Putin assured Sheikh Hasina of his government's all-out support in constructing the safest Nuclear Power Plant.
The main features of the agreement were Russia’s support in infrastructure development, designing, construction and operation of two nuclear power units, development of human resources for the nuclear power plant, supply of nuclear fuel for the same, help in developing necessary arrangement for decommissioning and nuclear waste management.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on October 2, 2013 laid the foundation stone of the Bangladesh’s first nuclear power plant at the Rooppur site, which was chosen earlier. Preliminary works began with Russia's assistance. The Government of Russia extended a state credit of USD 500 million for the job. Atomenergoproekt, a sister concern of Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom was awarded the overall responsibility for the jobs at the Preparatory Stage, which included an engineering survey, environmental assessment, development of project documents.
Implementation of such a huge and hi-tech project requires very big investment, expertise and experience. Rosatom and its subsidiaries, with over 70 years of experience and expertise in the industry, came forward with comprehensive solutions for the Rooppur project.
On December 25, 2015, Rosatom's engineering division – ASE Group of Companies was appointed as the General Contractor of the project. The company boasts of constructing maximum number of nuclear power plants outside Russia. Under the contract, ASE was to construct two nuclear power units with the latest 3+ generation Russian VVER–1200 reactors; each of the units is of 1,200MW capacity. Though, initially Bangladesh opted for VVER–1000 reactors, but later considering more effectiveness and superior safety features, the decision went in favour of the chosen one.
For Bangladesh to invest the required amount of money in such a capital intensive project was quite difficult. Russia extended its helping hand and under an agreement signed on July 26, 2016, Russia approved a State Credit of $11.385 billion for Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, which is 90 per cent of the total project cost. The credit under soft terms and conditions is payable within 28 years with a 10-year grace period.
Another great concern for Bangladesh was the management of spent fuel. It requires huge facilities, investment as well as expertise. Russia did all which was necessary, including amendment of its national legislation to help Bangladesh to take back the spent fuel to Russia for further reprocessing and management. A formal agreement was signed on August 30, 2017 to this effect between the two countries. Under an agreement signed on August 6, 2019 with Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission, TVEL Fuel Company of Russia will ensure fuel supply throughout the lifecycle of the Rooppur project.
While implementing the national nuclear power programme, Bangladesh required a regulatory authority to ensure nuclear and radiation safety. With that objective, in 2013 Bangladesh Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority (BAERA) was formed to safeguard the interest of the people, plant workers, environment etc. But for BAERA with its limited experience in the field was not easy to properly exercise their responsibilities. Rostechnadzor, the analogous organisation in Russia with decades of experience in the field came forward and a contract was signed in 2017 for rendering consulting services to Bangladesh Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority by FSUE VO “Safety” - technical support organisation of Rostechnadzor.
To operate and maintain the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, Bangladesh needs a pool of scientists, skilled engineers, technicians, and other experts. Obviously Bangladesh at this moment does not have that number of qualified manpower. Russia has committed to help Bangladesh in resolving the problem. The Russian government has been offering scholarships to talented Bangladeshi students for higher studies in nuclear science in different Russian universities, every year. Besides, another concern of Rosatom – Rusatom Service – has been organising short-term advanced training courses for Bangladeshi experts in Rosatom Academy in Russia.
In addition to that, Russian universities are collaborating with Bangladeshi universities for promoting nuclear education and prepare knowledgeable manpower for the country’s nuclear energy sector.
Physical protection of such a sensitive establishment like nuclear power plant is an issue of top priority. No doubt, Bangladesh has the capability to ensure that, but once again, it does not have the required experience and expertise in doing for a nuclear power plant. Though, in the 2010’s intergovernmental agreement there was no provision for Russia to get involved in the physical protection, but later considering the circumstances Bangladesh and Russia signed a protocol to bring in some amendments in the intergovernmental agreement. The protocol provides for the possibility of involving a specialised Russian company in designing and installation of physical protection system for the main and auxiliary facilities of the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant. Russia with its huge experience in the field can be of great help for Bangladesh, no doubt.
The writer is the Head of the
Nuclear Physics and Engineering
Department at National Research
Nuclear University МЕРhi, Russia.