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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