The Quiet Achiever - Bangladesh Country Report (Part 2)

Part 2: The Road to Roll-out.

In Part Two of Nuclear Forum Asia’s Bangladesh Country Report, we dig deeper into the challenges involved on the road to rolling out Bangladesh’s first nuclear power plant at Ruppur, and delve into the nation’s strategic partnerships

Not without challenges
Reactor Physics and Analysis professor at the University of Dhaka’s Department of Physics and former Chairman of the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission, Dr Shafiqul Islam Bhuiyan, a leading national expert in the burgeoning Bangladeshi nuclear sector, recognises that although the industry is rapidly developing, significant challenges exist. “Human resource development is the number one challenge. Besides trained and experienced scientists, we are lacking in engineers and other expert technicians.”

Manpower is an important focus for the government however, the lack of experts is clearly recognised and the government, as will be seen, is doing something about it. A former professor in nuclear engineering at King Abdulaziz University, in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Dr Shafiqul is taking a long-term view on human capital, “Our specific needs include training in reactor analysis, in-core fuel management, and safety analysis, reactor operation and maintenance. Local expertise, skill and competency should be developed for efficient management and future operation,” he adds. “We are lacking expertise in nuclear physics, reactor physics, nuclear engineering graduates, both at graduate and undergraduate level needs to be addressed. More universities need to come forward with quality programmes to address this.” 

The precipice of a new era?
The Bangladesh government is fully cognisant of this challenge and is proving itself a committed nuclear player and there is even advanced talk of a second facility in the Bay of Bengal. But not placing the cart before the horse is vital and in the case of Ruppur, apart from significant financial assistance, Russia will be providing human resource training – regulatory staff will be trained in Russia. Nuclear neighbour India has also been approached to provide HR training and industrial development as well. Russian President Vladimir Putin has personally reassured the Bangladesh government about Russia’s safety record, and to create the skilled manpower required to operate the power plant, the government has organised a technical training for the local workforce in India and Russia. Dr Shafiqul agrees stating that, “The two [Russian-built] VVER 1200 reactors that are under construction at Ruppur [enjoy] unprecedented levels of safety and are designed with proven and innovative safety mechanisms, including both active and passive systems. It meets all the post-Fukoshima safety requirements. Specifically the passive heat removal system is an excellent solution in the case of a station blackout.”

In forging its expert partnerships, Bangladesh has enlisted the assistance of nuclear power India. According to the World Nuclear Association, this year the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission announced the appointment of India’s Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership as the consultant for construction and operation of Ruppur. The Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership is strongly supported by Russia and designed to strengthen India’s collaboration internationally. The IAEA has come on board to provide experts to Centre, not just to benefit Bangladesh nuclear, but South Asian nuclear in general.

The next great step or challenge, with these strategic partnerships now in place, says Dr Shafiqul, will be the commissioning of the Ruppur plant on deadline “so that it will supply power to our national grid. Simultaneously we will move ahead with the next nuclear power plant development.”

Russia provides construction and financing
In 2011 the Bangladesh and Russia signed intergovernmental agreement for the construction of the VVER-1200 reactors, followed by EPC contract inked in 2015. Rosatom claims its VVER-1200 to be the world’s first generation 3+ design in operation since the commissioning of Novovoronezh-5 in Russia, which is a reference project for the Ruppur NPP.

An unrestricted long-term power source of the capacity of 2.4GWe is nothing short of boon for Bangladesh’s economy and development. The project is also of great importance from an economic perspective as the facility project is the costliest project in Bangladeshi history. Bangladesh is riding on one chance to get this right. “Power is a must to change the lives of people and RNPP is a project which will help us to meet the power demand,” added Yafes Osman, the State Minister for Ministry of Science and Technology, recently. Yafes emphasises that the Ruppur plant will serve the country for an extended period and will assist economic growth. 

While it is true that costs have increased over the original estimate, Russia is providing 90% of the funding for the project. The US$12.65 billion project is planned to be completed in 2022 (the 1st power unit) and 2023 (the 2nd power unit). The costs of construction will be recovered within a maximum of a decade and a half. The loan will be repaid within 18 years after commissioning of the power plant.

Rosatom will complete a year of operation before the Bangladeshis take charge. Russia will continue to manage the fuel cycle by supplying the nuclear fuel and disposing of nuclear waste. Rosatom will also be responsible for the required human resource development, designing the legal and regulatory framework, and of course the main installation. A five-stage protection system will be used to safeguard the reactors; the plant will also be earthquake resistant.

Bangladesh, an accidental hero in Asian nuclear, may very well prove to be the paradigm shift in the way that nuclear energy is perceived in a hesitant region. If Bangladesh can create a technical, financial and importantly public relations success out of Ruppur, South and Southeast Asia will need to take serious heed. “Nuclear is an inevitable option and necessary requirement for sustainable development in Bangladesh.” Many of the region’s nations are confronting imminent and similar energy and environmental days of reckoning, and therefore the floodplain nation dwarfed by its massive western nuclear neighbour, India, could rise to the status of nuclear leader in its own right. Bangladesh’s coming of age could see in a new era of development for the regional or even global nuclear energy industry. Ruppur could certainly provide a resurrecting boost for the region’s nuclear sector.

“The successful implementation of Ruppur is the culmination of a half-century dream for the nation. Bangladesh looks forward to seeing our vision of a presence on the world nuclear map come true,” concludes Dr Shafiqul.