Bangladesh needs more nuclear power plants


While the entire world, including the United States, are now putting special emphasis on looking for establishing more nuclear power plants, as the most effective source of electricity, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took the appropriate decision for establishing the country’s first nuclear power plant under technical assistance from Russia.

The Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant will be a 2.4 GWe nuclear power plant in Bangladesh. The nuclear power plant is being constructed at Rooppur of Ishwardi upazila in Pabna District, on the bank of the river Padma, 87 miles (140 km) west of Dhaka. It will be the country’s first nuclear power plant, and the first of the two units is expected to go into operation in 2024. The VVER-1200/523 Nuclear reactor and critical infrastructures are being built by the Russian Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation. In the main construction period, the total number of employees will reach 12,500, including 2,500 specialists from Russia. It is expected to generate around 15 percent of the country’s electricity when completed.

In 2005, Bangladesh signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with China. In 2007, the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC) proposed two 500 MW nuclear reactors for Rooppur by 2015. In 2008, China offered funding for the project. Instead, the Bangladesh government started discussion with the Russian government a year later and on 13 February the two governments signed a memorandum of understanding. Rosatom said they would start construction by 2013.

In 2011, International Atomic Energy Agency conducted IAEA Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) mission in Bangladesh. Later on, IAEA approved a technical assistance project for the Rooppur nuclear power plant. In 2013 a group of Bangladeshi scientists and the global diaspora voiced profound concern over the safety and economic viability of the plant. Several separate issues were raised, from the unsuitability of the site to the obsolescence of the VVER-1000 model proposed, questionable financing arrangements and a lack of agreement with Russia over nuclear waste disposal.

In 2015, the proposal was delayed by a year. Rosatom offered a two VVER-1200 reactor power plant, increasing output to 2.4 GWe. On December 25, 2015, representatives of the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission and the Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom signed the contract for the construction of the Rooppur nuclear power plant worth the equivalent of US$12.65 billion.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA), in its International Energy Outlook 2021 report, notes trends in global energy supply, demand, and emissions to 2050 that forecast the need for nuclear power. The report projects world energy consumption to rise around 50 percent by 2050, due to strong economic growth, increased access to energy and electricity, and rapid population growth in non-Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries and continents. CO2 equivalent and emissions (CO2e), which excludes emission changes from land use changes and forestry, are projected to grow in OECD countries by approximately 5 percent and in non-OECD countries by 35 percent between 2019 and 2050.

Meeting this projected demand will be a herculean challenge, especially if the countries require such energy to be clean. In fact, zero-carbon electrical generation that comes from nuclear power is the only scalable solution that can meet the necessary requirements (higher energy use, manageable costs, lower emissions, and improved global energy security).

As of August 2020, the US fleet of nuclear reactors is at ninety-four working reactors. Yet this figure faces uncomfortable prospects. A recent loss was the Duane Arnold Energy Center, outside of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Since 2013, eleven nuclear reactors have been closed and scheduled for decommissioning. Eight more are scheduled for closure and decommissioning by 2025. If this trend continues, the United States could lose more than 10 percent of the nation’s nuclear capacity within a decade. This is extremely puzzling, as the American public “favors nuclear power for emission cuts”.

In fact, on paper, the United States is committed to nuclear power as a seminal part of its long-term energy strategy, which was solidified when the 115th US Congress enacted two bills to promote advanced nuclear reactors.

The first, the Nuclear Energy Innovation Capabilities Act of 2017 was signed into law in September 2018, and requires the Department of Energy (DOE) “to develop a versatile fast neutron test reactor that could help develop fuels and materials for advanced reactors and authorizes DOE national laboratories and other sites to host reactor testing and demonstration projects”.

The second law was the Nuclear Energy Innovation and Modernization Act, which requires the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to “develop an optional regulatory framework suitable for advanced nuclear technologies”.

More recently, the ADVANCED Act, introduced on April 3 by five Republican and five Democrat senators builds on bipartisan efforts to promote nuclear power.

According to experts, nuclear power is vitally important to the future of the environment. Coal usage globally is on the rise, skewering COP 27 pledges to reduce CO2 and methane emissions. China and India have pledged to grow coal use indefinitely. Both are purchasing increased volumes of fossil fuels from Russia at a deep discount.

With Asian and African nations attaining tremendous economic progress with its population also at growth, only nuclear power has the ability for reliable baseload electrical generation while producing zero-carbon to counter the growing demand for energy security and lowering emissions. According to experts, using nuclear power; particularly advanced nuclear technology is the appropriate solution to growing demand for electricity. In this case, Bangladesh needs to immediately begin discussion with various countries, including the US, European nations, China, and Russia for the establishment of at least 6-8 additional nuclear power plants in the country by 2040.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh also needs to chalk-out plans to gradually shut-down its existing diesel-based and coal-based power plants, as part of the country’s commitment to environmental issues. In this regard, foreign companies may be encouraged to establish those nuclear power plants at their own investments and later get the investment refunded through income generated from the sale of electricity to the end customers.

In my opinion, this can be easily implemented once Bangladesh immediately begins the process of inviting foreign companies to submit their proposal with the provision of 100 percent investment on their own.

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