The foundation stone has been laid at the Rooppur nuclear power site after Russia and Bangladesh signed an agreement on the construction of the country's first nuclear power plant. The agreement covers the design stage of the project, which is expected to take about two years to complete and will form the basis for obtaining further licences and starting construction of the plant.[1,2]
Two 1,000 MWe reactors are planned for Rooppur, based on a modified version of the NPP-2006 VVER pressurised water reactor. The site is on the eastern bank of the river Ganges (in Bangladesh it is called the Padma River), 160 kms from Dhaka. Site preparation is expected to begin in early 2014, with construction beginning in 2015. The project is expected to take around five years, with the first unit beginning operation in 2020 and the second in 2022.[1,2]
The project follows Russia's BOO model − build, own and operate. Under the terms of the construction deal, Russia's state-run Rosatom nuclear energy corporation will build, operate and provide fuel for the plant in addition to taking back the spent fuel for long-term management and permanent disposal in Russia. Russia will also train workers to operate the plant.[2,4]
Abdul Matin, a former chief engineer with the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission and author of the book 'Rooppur & the Power Crisis', warns about conflicts of interest: "An ideal feasibility study is usually prepared by an independent consultant in order to correctly assess the technical and economic viability of a project without any bias or prejudice so as to help all the stakeholders in the process of decision making. ... NIAEP-ASE, being a subsidiary of ROSATOM, the likely supplier and builder of the proposed nuclear power plant at Rooppur, cannot by any definition be classified as an independent consultant. Under such circumstances, the credibility of the feasibility study and EIA prepared by them may be questioned."
Abdul Matin also discusses conflicts of interest regarding financing: "The economic feasibility will prepare a reasonable estimate of the capital cost of the nuclear plant which will form the basis of negotiations between the BAEC as the owner and ROSATOM as the supplier and builder. The conflict of interest is obvious in this case. While estimating the capital cost of the nuclear plant, will NIAEP-ASE try to keep it as low as possible in the interest of its employer BAEC or will it inflate it to maximize the profits of its parent company? Will it be possible for NIAEP-ASE to impartially evaluate the safety aspects of a nuclear power plant designed, supplied and built by its parent company [Rosatom]? Under such circumstance, is there any guarantee that the conflict of interest will not lead to a compromise on the safety aspects of the nuclear plant at Rooppur?"
Russia has agreed to provide US$500 million to finance preparatory work and to provide future loans to finance construction of the reactors. According to the World Nuclear Association, "a future loan of about $1.5 billion is expected for the nuclear build proper" or, more cryptically, "a second loan of over $1.5 billion for 90% of the first unit's construction".
Implausible capital costs of US$2 billion per reactor have been cited. Quamrul Haider, a physics professor at Fordham University, New York, notes that "it would be foolish to expect a good and a safe reactor at such a bargain price." Dr A. Rahman, a nuclear safety specialist with over 32 years of experience in the British civil and military nuclear establishments, notes that the capital cost for VVER-1000 reactors in China is US$4.5 billion with cheap Chinese labour and locally available technology. Dr Rahman opines: "It seems the Bangladesh Government is either deliberately misleading the public, or indulging on wishful thinking or just hallucinating!"
Quamrul Haider notes that the estimated construction time of 4−5 years is "far-fetched"  while Abdul Matin notes the first reactor is "most unlikely to be in operation before 2023" − three years later than the planned 2020 start-up date.
Claims that the reactors will operate for 60 years with options to extend by another 20 years  are also far-fetched.
Dr Rahman warns about water supply for reactor cooling. He notes that India built the Farakka Barrage just 40 kms upstream on the Padma River, resulting in lean summer months from January to June, insufficient for even normal riverine trade and transport. "The remaining water available during the summer months is totally inadequate to supply cooling water for even one 1000 MWe plant, let alone two plants," Dr Rahman says.
Dozens of scientists, engineers, academics, doctors and other professionals have signed a statement expressing concern about the safety and economic viability of the proposed nuclear power plant at Rooppur. They express concern at:
- "woefully inadequate" water supply for reactor cooling;
- "outdated, unsafe and discarded" VVER reactor technology;
- implausible claims from a government minister and the Chair of the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission that capital costs will amount to just US$2 billion per reactor;
- the lack of technical expertise or skilled manpower in Bangladesh to undertake such a complex project, and the lack of industrial infrastructure;
- the lack of an institutional and regulatory framework to undertake such a complex project and the consequent safety implications, and Rosatom's insistence that responsibility for ensuring safety lies with the licensee, the Bangladesh government; and
- the lack of consideration of technical issues associated with the storage, transportation and disposal of radioactive materials and waste.
The professionals state: "Given these shortcomings and insurmountable impediments, the Bangladesh government should seriously consider abandoning this project. ... When advanced countries like Germany, Italy, Switzerland have all given up nuclear power plants and with Japan is tapering down nuclear power production after the Fukushima disaster, Bangladesh seems to be charging ahead recklessly."
The pro-nuclear NEI Nuclear Notes blog has a much more optimistic take on the mismatch between a dangerous, complex technology and the lack of technical and industrial infrastructure in Bangladesh: "One benefit of nuclear energy that does not get much play is the way its deployment can lead to rapid industrialization in developing nations – maybe a better way to put this is, it can help bring about an industrial revolution."
Many previous plans for nuclear power in Bangladesh have been abandoned. The first such proposals date back to 1961. A 70 MWe nuclear power plant proposal was approved in 1963; 140 MW in 1966; 200 MW in 1969; and 125 MW in 1980, with proposals and offers from the US, Belgium, Sweden, USSR and France. Plans for a 300 MW reactor were developed in 1980/81. Feasibility studies were carried out in 1987 and 1988. By the 1990s, proposals for a 300−500 MW reactor were under consideration.
In 1999 the then government expressed its firm commitment to build a nuclear plant at Rooppur, and in 2005 it signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with China. In 2007 the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission proposed two 500 MW nuclear reactors for Rooppur by 2015. In April 2008 the government reiterated its intention to work with China in building the Rooppur plant and China offered funding for the project. In May 2009 a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement was signed between Bangladesh and Russia − the genesis of the current project.
 WNN, 3 Oct 2013, 'Celebrations herald Bangladesh nuclear plant' www.world-nuclear-news.org/NN-Celebrations_herald_Bangladesh_nuclear_pla...
 WNN, 2 Nov 2011, 'Russia agrees to build Bangladeshi nuclear', www.world-nuclear-news.org/NP-Russia_agrees_to_build_Bangladeshi_nuclear...
 Geert De Clercq, 14 May 2013, 'Rosatom offers emerging nations nuclear package: paper', http://planetark.org/enviro-news/item/68656
 BBC, 2 Oct 2013, 'Bangladesh nuclear power plant work begins', www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-24371991
 Abdul Matin, 1 July 2013, 'Feasibility study on Rooppur NPP and conflict of interest', www.theindependentbd.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=17...
 World Nuclear Association, accessed Oct 2013, 'Nuclear Power in Bangladesh', www.world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Countries-A-F/Bangladesh/
 Quamrul Haider, 26 Oct 2013, 'Capital cost of a nuclear power plant', www.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/capital-cost-of-a-nuclear-power-plant/
 A. Rahman, 19 July 2013, 'Nuclear fascination and misinformation', http://opinion.bdnews24.com/2013/07/19/nuclear-fascination-and-misinform...
 Abdul Matin, 23 Oct 2013, 'How to repay Russian credit for Rooppur?', www.thedailystar.net/beta2/news/how-to-repay-russian-credit-for-rooppur/
 30 June 2013, 'Concerns over the Safety and Economic Viability of the Proposed Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant (RNPP)', http://opinion.bdnews24.com/2013/07/10/rooppur-nuclear-power-plant-unsaf...
 NEI Nuclear Notes, 2 Oct 2013, 'How Bangladesh Is Moving Forward', http://neinuclearnotes.blogspot.com.au/2013/10/how-bangladesh-is-moving-...
 Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission, accessed 6 Nov 2013, www.baec.org.bd/baec/baec/nped.php
(Written by Nuclear Monitor editor Jim Green.)