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Evaluating the Rooppur nuclear power plant

  • Published at 09:52 pm December 3rd, 2019
Nuclear power plant

Is Bangladesh’s nuclear ambition too premature? This is the concluding part of Tuesday’s op-ed

The price of electricity would be much higher than the latest estimates, as the BAEC did not consider the costs to be spent on sending high-level radioactive nuclear wastes to Russia and that on the decommissioning cost of the Rooppur nuclear power plant. The two issues might involve several billion dollars.

Criticisms about financing and pricing

Hesitant stances of the government in determining the technology with construction cost escalation drew sever criticism from conscious citizens. 

The government has so far shifted its position twice between 2007 and 2014 with significant rises in investment costs. In 2007, the BAEC prepared its proposal with an old version of VVER -- 1,000 reactor or equivalent technology developed by other supplier countries. 

The project cost was estimated at a range from $0.9 billion to $2bn. 

In 2010, the BAEC responded positively to a Russian proposal to install the two-unit power plant with AES-92 or VVER- 1,000 reactors. After the Fukushima accident in 2011, issues of additional safety measures surfaced. 

At that time, Bangladesh had three options of choosing reactor models with passive safety measures for physical protection of the nuclear reactor from natural disasters and attacks by terrorists or any foreign force. Russia was reportedly pursuing for supplying its latest technology, the VVER-TOI, for Rooppur nuclear power plant. 

But the proposal was rejected, citing the grounds that there was no reference plant that used VVER-TOY, and the IAEA Guidelines recommends that a beginner country should implement a nuclear power project following the footsteps of a reference plant using the technology.

On December 25, 2015, the BAEC and the Atomstroyexport signed a $12.65bn general contract for the construction of the two-unit nuclear power plant with a total of 2,400MW power generation capacity. Under the contract, the Russian authorities will educate and train 1,950 individuals, mainly for operation and maintenance of the power plant.

Significance and future in Bangladesh

In the developed countries, their education system, power grid system, or national security arrangements have been beefed up with their economic growth as well as growth of living standards -- which has made it easy to develop and cope with large-scale nuclear infrastructures like power plants. 

Now, questions arise whether a country like Bangladesh should have adopted the nuclear program after the development of its sectors. The government bypassed the process and adopted a short-cut method for the sectors’ development. First, it set an ambitious target of building the nuclear infrastructures with a tight schedule and then it started developing the sectors necessary for the power plant. 

The critics compared it as an act of “putting the cart before the horse.” They find it a massively risky venture for Bangladesh, which could severely affect the current economic growth. The government, however, took a firm stand about the project.

The government expects Rooppur nuclear power plant’s due time commissioning, as well as commencement of its safe and optimum operation, to open a new window for energy-hungry Bangladesh. It will help bring fuel diversity in power generation as well as supply electricity without carbon emission. 

Although the Power System Masterplan (PSMP) of 2016 recommended a total of six units of nuclear reactors to be installed by 2041 to have a power generation capacity of 7,200MW, the success might encourage the government to think of doubling the capacity to double the electricity generated until 2041. 

The government’s thinking is also that a success story with Rooppur would encourage the future generation to invest in more ventures with advanced technologies.

Beside all these issues, the 100-year assets will play vital roles in formulation and implementation of future energy sector reforms. 

The government expects developing its own capacity to operate and maintain the power plant in three to four years after its commissioning, scheduled for 2022 for the first unit and 2023 for the second unit of the plant.

The prospects of the use of nuclear technology in electricity generation would, however, be determined by how fast the country develops its human resources for operation and maintenance of nuclear power plants and negotiating contractors’ appointments for new nuclear units as well as carrying out regulatory functions. 

But above all, a nuclear program needs to integrate the entire nation as soon as possible.

Rokan Uddin is a senior correspondent at NTV. He can be reached at [email protected]This is an excerpt of a keynote paper presented at a seminar.