Rooppur Nuclear Power Project

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Rooppur Nuclear Power Project conceived in 1961 in view of the growing need for electricity against the inadequate supply of indigenous primary energy resources in the country. Before the liberation of independence different companies from USA, USSR, UK and Switzerland who established its techno-economic viability conducted a number of feasibility studies on the project. Later, a site for it was selected at Rooppur in Pabna. Land for the plant (105.30 ha) and the residential colony (12.15 ha) was acquired and the people affected were compensated and rehabilitated at a nearby place. The executive committee of the National Economic Council approved the project for three different sizes on as many occasions - 70 MW in 1963, 140 MW in 1966, and 200 MW in 1969. Reactor suppliers from USA, Canada, Sweden, USSR and Belgium submitted proposals for the supply of reactors of different sizes and types. Some of these proposals were also backed by offers of external financing. After initially showing interest in providing finance for a 70 MW reactor, USAID suddenly backed out in 1963. The Canadian nuclear plant, originally proposed for Rooppur, was in 1965 implemented in Karachi. In 1966 a joint proposal for 140 MW by Sweden and USA was backed by suppliers' credit, but the Government of Pakistan did not find the terms and conditions acceptable.

In 1968 a Soviet company prepared a feasibility report and recommended establishment of a 400 MW Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) plant with 2 turbines of 200 MW each. The turbines were to be installed in two phases extending over a period of 10 years. The Government of the then USSR also agreed to provide technical and economic assistance. At about the same time, an offer from Belgium was received. Due to the long construction schedule of the former offer the authority preferred the latter. A Belgian firm submitted a project proposal for a 200 MW PWR plant in 1969. A Swiss consulting firm made another study of the project and justified the establishment of a nuclear power plant.

A consortium of banks from Belgium agreed to raise the necessary funds as a loan to be subsidised by their government so as to reduce the interest rate. The formal signing of both the commercial and the financial agreements with Belgium was scheduled in April 1971, but because the war of liberation started in March of the same year, the signing did not take place. After liberation, efforts were made in 1972 to revive the Belgian offer, although the government made abortive attempt to divert the fund to other projects, since rehabilitation and reconstruction work of the war ravaged country were considered to be of prime importance. For the same reason, the government did not respond to the renewed offer made by Canada in 1973. From 1974 to 1976 efforts were made to explore the possibility of finding a reactor together with firm indication regarding source as well as terms and conditions of foreign financing for the project. For this purpose, a fact-finding mission from Bangladesh visited Germany, France, Belgium and UK. In 1975 the IAEA initiated a market survey study for small and medium sized power reactors. A French consulting firm started a technical, economic and financial feasibility study in 1977, and completed the same in 1978. The Bangladesh Government financed this study from its own funds. This study justified the early implementation of Rooppur Project with a 125 MW reactor.

As a result of the efforts and studies mentioned above a French reactor vendor and their consortium partners submitted a project proposal for 125 MW plant in 1978. A team of scientists and engineers of the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC) evaluated the project proposal and found it to be suitable for implementation. The experts of the IAEA reviewed this evaluation report and endorsed the BAEC's views in general. Contractual negotiations with the suppliers were carried out in 1979. The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) approved the scheme for a 125 MW plant in 1980 but the supplier lost interest as efforts for arranging finance from Saudi Arabia failed. Since then, exploration for the supply as well as finance for the project has continued. Several meetings were held among BAEC, the Planning Commission, Ministry of Energy, and other agencies of the Government. As a result, an offer for a joint venture came from Germany in 1986.

A committee on monitoring the implementation of the project was constituted with the President as its chairman. M/S Lahmeyer of Germany and M/S Motor Columbus of Switzerland conducted the latest study in 1987-88. This study reaffirmed the technical, economic and financial viability of the project. Unfortunately, the joint venture proposal too did not materialise, as foreign financing could not be arranged. Nevertheless, under the overall guidance of the implementation committee review, study and consultation continued. In the meantime the government decided to allow generation by the private sector so as to augment the supply of electricity in the country.

A number of reactor suppliers have shown interest to take advantage of the privatisation policy and participate in generation of electricity through modes, like Build, Operate and Own (BOO) or Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT). In this type of mode, no investment on the part of the government will be necessary, although a contract is required to be signed to ensure the sale of electricity at a price according to the terms and conditions to be agreed upon between the government and the owner of the plant. This mode of establishing nuclear plant with the IAEA was discussed at the ministerial and the Director General levels on the part of Bangladesh government and the Agency respectively. A positive response for providing technical assistance from the IAEA was also received.'

Recently Russia has assured Bangladesh of providing both financial and technical assistance for setting up its first-ever nuclear power plant at Rooppur in Pabna. It is a significant development. Moscow has agreed to bear major portion of the Tk 1.2-1.5 billion expenditure and all kinds of technical support for building the 1,000-megawatt (mw) power plant. Proposed nuclear power plant at Rooppur is likely to be set up on the basis of build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT) system. A final deal with Russia concerning the plant is expected to be signed within the year 2012 with the aim of commissioning it by 2017.'

On safety measure, one more crucial deal - nuclear radiation safety control - is expected to be signed with Russia in the next few months. Under the deal, Russia will fully cooperate with Bangladesh in radiation leakage control. The proposed nuclear plant is expected to be built with modern technology to preclude the chance of radiation leakage as in Japan's Fukoshima. The nuclear reactor will automatically be shut down in case of any leakage.

Russia has also agreed to train Bangladeshi engineers and other technical persons for creating necessary workforce to operate the plant. As suggested by IAEA, Bangladesh government has to involve various stakeholders and conduct a nationwide campaign so that people are well aware of the project and its risk factors. There is no denying that the nuclear power plant operation is a very sensitive work and needs highly skilled manpower. Bangladesh does not have such manpower available at present. So an extensive and comprehensive plan has to be taken to develop skilled manpower to run such a project.

Bangladesh can rely on nuclear technology to produce adequate amount of electricity. But the country lacks money, technology, and managerial skill and as such, it needs to attract foreign investment. Nuclear energy is by far the best option if costly nuclear power plants can be set up. With fast depletion of natural gas reserves, these options should be diligently weighed to meet the nagging energy demand of the country. [MA Quaiyum]