A proposal made in 1961, to build a nuclear power plant in the west of the country, is now going to be worked out. After many reports submission, adoption of nuclear power action plan 2001, agreement with china in 2005, proposals made from some countries, Russia got the task to establish nuclear power plant (NPP). In May 2010, an intergovernmental agreement was signed with Russia for nuclear cooperation in various areas. An agreement with Rosatom was signed in February 2011 for two MWe-class reactors to be built at Ruppur for the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC). In June 2016, cabinet approved a Draft agreement for Russia to provide $11.38 billion credit facility for the project and agreement was signed in July. The Nuclear Power Plant Act 2015 sets up the Nuclear Power Company of Bangladesh (NPCB) to run the plant though ownership remains with the Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC). The purpose of this NPP, as they said, is to make a stable and powerful resource to continuously supply energy and fulfill future Demand in lower cost.
According to Power System Master Plan (PSMP) 2010, Demand forecast made by Government of Bangladesh based on 7% GDP rate is now 11,405 MW and will be 17,304 by 2020. NPP can meet this demand in lower cost. They also said that it will not harm environment and ecology because of lower carbon-di- oxide and other Greenhouse gas emission than fossil fuels. And it will be a safer and risk-free nuke because of 3rd generation technology, the use of pressurized water reactor and fully automated power plants and a better disposal system of radioactive waste. Are these really hopeful for our energy solution or is it a development black hole? A group of Bangladeshi scientists voiced profound concern over the safety and economic viability of this plant. Let us have a reality check into nuke and it is not becoming fitted to Bangladesh.
At first, a NPP is not cheaper compared to other plants, and it takes more time to be built up. There are safety concern if the plant is not operated correctly or conditions arise that were unforeseen when the plant was developed as happened at the Fukushima plant in Japan; the core melted down following an earthquake and tsunami. A huge amount of water will be needed which will increase cost price. To run a 1000 MW NPP, 185 MW electricity is needed which is one-fifth of its energy production. Then environmental issue comes forward, although it will emit lower carbon-di-oxide, it has many environmental risks such as radioactive waste storage and disposal and possible leakage into ground water can make Chernobyl alive. And at last nuclear accidents, we can fear. Because of hundreds of accidents occurred after inception of nuclear reactor in 1954. Serious accidents included three miles island 1979, Chernobyl 1986 and Fukushima 2011.
When every developed country like Germany, Finland, Switzerland and Japan, after Fukushima, are going to stop nuclear power plant, why is Bangladesh government going to take this worst step without thinking about dense population ,environment , water resource and misusing of huge amount of money? Why should we raise voice against this project not fitted to Bangladesh? At first, there are many problems and loopholes in site selection procedure and environmental impact assessment. The remaining water of Padma River is inadequate to meet the plant cooling requirements because of extraction of as much as 75 percent water in summer by India using Farakka. The VVER-1000 is outdated model as a project was cancelled even in Russia in 2008.
Former Soviet bloc countries had to decommission VVER-1000 to join with EU. Bangladesh has no Technical expertise, skilled manpower. Moreover, current industrial infrastructure and transport system are not also ready to work. When Bangladesh claims that Russia has assured Bangladesh about the safety of plant, Rosatom said, safety lies with the license (Bangladesh Government). The Bangladesh authorities seem to be unaware of the legal implications of the licensing regime. The government claims radioactive waste materials will go to Russia but Russia has said no such agreement has been reached as this waste is very dangerous to environment, water resources and harms people’s health. Though NPP has lower carbon and other greenhouse emission, the most harmful and devastating thing is radioactive waste. If it is not treated with right manner it will cause harm to environment and if leaked through ground water it will pollute water resources and thereby cause harm to people’s health. And, if an accident happens, then it will cause a devastating situation in the whole country. Thousands of lives can be diminished and paralyzed, severe environmental disorder can be happened and ecology of the environment will be threatened as described above. Only a hell we can imagine.
Besides these, there are some factors should not be overlooked.
From legal viewpoint, as an expert says, it is not a ‘fixed price’ contract but a ‘cost plus’ contract. It means when the construction work proceeds, the vendor has the right to come up with any cost escalation plus their profit maxim to be incorporated with the contract amount. It has happened with Iran and India from Russia, their best friend. Bangladesh also got this recently, a friendly shock. The total cost of two power plants shot up from around US $4 billion dollar as projected earlier to near US $13 billion dollar. In cost procedure, decommissioning, refueling for 3 months in every 18 months, radioactive waste management is not included, when these will increase cost price more than estimated. Another legal position is Bangladesh will be solely responsible for the repayment of loan with interest, even if the plant cancelled or accidentally damaged. When British government sets a NPP in Hinckley point in cooperation with EDF (French company) and China share, they will not give any money but mere subsidy in some matter and won’t repay any money if it will be cancelled or damaged. Pity on our government and people’s money, Billions of money also will be misused, if a nuclear accident happens there.
The shortcomings, impediment, inadequacy in technology and regulation, bad deal, high cost price and environmental impact of this project we have seen above. But what is the alternative to fulfill our national electricity demand? There are many alternatives such as solar, wind, geothermal, hydro electronics. Other sources can be used in small scale. But solar power is less costly than the others and it has better prospect in Bangladesh. Bangladesh government announced Bangladesh as ‘solar nation’, when they are verily inclined to invest in nuclear rather than solar. Now solar energy is going to be cheaper than another time in contrast with nuclear.
See the chart below-
In Bangladesh, we have more average bright sunshine compared to Germany, Italy and Finland those have decided to opt out of the NPP generation and want to provide energy by renewable sources. We have average sunshine; 7.4 hours in dry season and 4.7 hours in monsoon. Germany, only in 2011, produced 7,400 MW (equal to seven in Ruppur), when their sunshine period is half comparing to us. As our natural resources are depleting, we should go to renewable energy which is less costly and environment friendly. In this year, a project on solar energy in Shariatpur has won UN climate change award. It is a living example of growing solar energy production in Bangladesh. When developed countries are shifting their energy production from nuke to solar, we have to emphasize on these alternative sources although it cannot fulfill a big amount of our demand. As a probable part of future victim of this project, ‘We’ is the best way out of this growing enemy project and it would possibly happen when we will feel to be a part of all future victims. Similarly, Bangladesh government should rethink seriously about establishing this ominous and devastating project.
The Writer is an undergraduate student at the University of Dhaka.