Saturday, January 21, 2012

Nuke Power Plant in Rooppur : Major hurdle crossed

Russia assures funding, technology to implement it by 2017.

Bangladesh has made a significant headway in the strive for setting up its first-ever nuclear power plant at Rooppur in Pabna with Russia assuring it of both financial and technological assistance.

“A major portion of the Tk 1,200-1,500 crore estimated expenditure and all kinds of technological support for building the 1,000-megawatt power plant will be given by Russia ,” State Minister for Science and Technology Yeahfesh Osman told The Daily Star.

The main hurdle of finding a financier for the proposed plant is now over. Terms and conditions of Russia's providing the fund will be discussed at a meeting with a delegation from Moscow, scheduled for January 25, he said.

Last year, Dhaka and Moscow signed a draft agreement on technological support from Russia for building the power plant. This followed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed in 2009. 

Responding to a question, the state minister said the power plant might also be set up on the basis of build-own-operate-transfer (BOOT). A final deal with Russia concerning the plant is expected to be signed within this year with the aim of commissioning it by 2017. 

“The prime minister has asked us to complete all preparatory work so that the deal can be struck during her visit to Russia between June and September,” he said.

Yeahfesh hoped construction of the plant would begin during the tenure of the present government.
All heavy equipment for the plant will be brought through waterways, he said. 

Meanwhile, in the last three years the government has made considerable progress in meeting the requirements specified by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for building the long-cherished nuclear power plant to resolve the country's energy crisis.

A number of deals, framework agreements and MoUs have already been signed with Russia for peaceful use of nuclear power, technology transfer, creating human resources to run a nuclear power plant, supply of required fuel and taking spent fuel back.

IAEA has a set of general guidelines regarding a nuclear power plant. Recently, it gave Dhaka 20 specific suggestions concerning the financier and ownership of the proposed plant, its safety measures and legal framework.

“Safety is our first priority. Officials of Russian state atomic energy corporation and IAEA, who have visited Bangladesh and the Rooppur site, are highly impressed to see our infrastructures,” said Yeahfesh.

On safety measure, he said one more crucial deal -- nuclear radiation safety control-- will be signed in the next few months. Under the deal, Russia will fully cooperate with Bangladesh in radiation leakage control. The cabinet recently approved a draft of the deal.

“The planned nuclear plant will be built with modern technology, and there will be no chance of radiation leakage as in Japan's Fukoshima,” he said. The nuclear reactor will automatically be shut down in case of any leakage.

Bangladesh is going to make a law and form an independent regulatory body to carry out IAEA's suggestion of forming a legal structure for implementing a nuke project. The cabinet last month approved in principle a draft Bangladesh Atomic Energy Regulatory Act, which is now being vetted by the law ministry.

The state minister said the draft will be placed at the coming parliament session. And a five-member independent regulatory body comprising experts will be formed after it is enacted. 

This body will be the supreme authority regarding the nuclear plant, its operation and use.

Russia will train Bangladeshi engineers and other technical persons for creating necessary workforce to operate the plant. The trainees will work in Russian plants for two years before their assignment in Bangladesh.

Yeahfesh said the Russian and IAEA delegations were impressed to see that the research reactor of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC) at Savar was operating successfully for 30 years. “You have already some people who can be useful for handling nuclear plant,” he quoted an official of the Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review mission of IAEA.

While visiting Bangladesh in November last year, the mission concluded that Dhaka met most of the pre-conditions. 

BAEC Director Dr Shawkat Akbar, who is also the project director of the proposed Rooppur plant, said implementation of the nuclear project greatly depends on finalising the financier, ownership of the plant and risk factor management. 

The IAEA wants clarity about all this, he said, adding all the issues must be resolved within this year for setting up the plant by 2017.

As suggested by IAEA, the government has to involve various stakeholders and conduct a nationwide campaign so that people are well aware of the project and its risk factor. 

A total of 292 acres of land was acquired -- 260 acres for the nuclear plant and 32 acres for offices and residences-- in Ishwardi upazila of Pabna after the then government decided in 1961 to set up the plant. 

Necessary equipment was also being brought but the ship carrying those did not come to Chittagong port. Instead, it went to Karachi and the project was shelved.