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    Central Asia
     Nov 5, 2011

Bangladesh, Russia sign nuclear plant deal
By Syed Tashfin Chowdhury

DHAKA - Bangladesh has officially decided to join the world's 30-strong nuclear power club, signing a landmark inter-governmental agreement (IGA) with Russia on November 2 for a nuclear power plant at Rooppur, in the Ishwardi subdistrict of Pabna, in the northwest of the country.

The 2,000 megawatt (MW) nuclear power plant will have two units, each of which will generate 1,000 MW of power, according to the deal, which did not mention any timeline, costs or sources of finance. The latest step follows up on a May 2009 memorandum of understanding (MoU) to set up the power plant. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) approved

Bangladesh's request to install nuclear power plants in 2007.

Science and technology minister Yeafesh Osman and Sergey V Kirienko, director general of Russia's State Atomic Energy Corp (Rosatom) signed the agreement on behalf of their respective sides at the Prime Minister's Office in Dhaka.

The nuclear deal is part of Bangladesh's efforts to diversify its energy sources, although it will be of little immediate use or consolation to the industrial sector, afflicted by regular brownouts, or the 50% of the country that has no access at all to electricity. Bangladesh's overall electricity generation stands at around 5,000 MW against a daily demand of over 6,500 MW.

Under the deal, Russia will extend all necessary support for setting up the plant, Kirienko told a joint press briefing.

"Russia will supply nuclear fuel for the entire life of the plant," said Kirienko, a former Russian prime minister. He added that as the project will be under the IAEA control, "it will meet all IAEA requirements".

Russia will Russia will help Bangladesh in financing the project, take back the spent fuel, manage the nuclear waste and help in the eventual decommissioning of the nuclear power plant.

"The project will meet all the safety requirements of a modern nuclear power plant," he said, while stressing that following the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in Japan in March this year, safety assurances have been a priority in the deal.

"Particularly for the Rooppur power plant, Rosatom will put to use a new design model, with a new safety system being used in Russia and abroad," he said.

Kirienko said that the model will have "a double protection system which can even survive the fall of a heavy aircraft on it", and "basic cooling systems that can allow heat to be diverted".

"It will also have a hydrogen reprocessing system that can help avoid any blast if hydrogen is produced," he said before adding that some work at the site still needs to be done as "effective site testing contributes to safety".

Osman said he hoped the government will be able to initiate the construction of the project during its tenure in office. General elections are to be held by March 29, 2014.

Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission chairman ASM Firoz recently told the Financial Express that the government hopes to complete construction of at least one of the 1,000 MW generating nuclear power plant by 2018. "It may cost around US$1.5-$2 billion to build the power plant," he said.

The plan to construct the Rooppur nuclear power plant was initiated by the Pakistan government in 1961. Following the war of independence that led to the emergence of Bangladesh in 1971, no further progress was made until 2007, when the then military-backed caretaker government started the latest efforts to make it a reality.

While the country requires more energy sources, the physical security of such a power plant and its costs have raised concerns. Critics say that by signing such a project, the government may be "playing into the hands of a few nuclear suppliers" like USA, UK, France, Russian and China, who basically "control the price of the fuel".

Some also fear Bangladesh will become dependent on Russia, which may be a "diplomatic handicap in changing global politics and economics".

Syed Tashfin Chowdhury is the Editor of Xtra, the weekend magazine of New Age, in Bangladesh.

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