In July 2021, Yafes Osman, minister of Science and Technology informed the media that 40 per cent of the construction work of Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant has been completed. Despite the global Covid-19 pandemic, the construction of the RNPP saw no disruptions and is on schedule. The RNPP, which promises to provide impetus to Bangladesh’s economic growth in the years to come, has secured support across the national population. However, there are from time to time, some misapprehensions voiced which are based neither on data or science. As the project nears completion, it would be prudent take stock on what makes the project a safe, economically viable and environmentally sustainable nuclear energy program.
Although Bangladesh has long considered setting up a nuclear power plant to meet its growing energy needs, the steps that finally resulted in RNPP began in 2009. The Perspective Plan of Bangladesh 2010-2021 and the Power System Master Plan strongly advocated development of nuclear energy. In 2010, a resolution stating, “In order to overcome the increasing power crisis in the country, a nuclear power plant shall be established immediately” was approved by the parliament. As the clamor for nuclear energy development program grew, some concrete steps were taken in this regard.
For any country making its first foray into nuclear energy, it is imperative to setup a comprehensive regulation, policy framework for creating required nuclear infrastructure in adherence to international standards and norms. In addition, a range of pre-construction activities are conducted to ensure that the site of the nuclear power plant is suitable and the proposed construction and subsequent operations of the nuclear power plant does not negatively impact the ecological and environmental balance of the area. The pre-construction studies also assess and determine the safety issues associated with the operation of nuclear power plant. Having decided to set-up the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant in Pabna, Bangladesh government subsequently embarked upon setting up the required policy-regulation framework to assess these aspects.
A comprehensive roadmap of nuclear infrastructure requirements was drawn up. The roadmap outlined three phases of construction work with milestones in each phase and review of the gaps and further work required. The culmination of the first phase was achieved when the Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) conducted by International Atomic Agency in 2011 concluded that Bangladesh had reached Milestone 1, having “made a knowledgeable decision” with regard to its nuclear power programme.
In order to ensure proper oversight of the preparatory work and ensure adherence to international standards in nuclear power plant construction management, the Bangladesh government established the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority (BAERA). The Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission, further signed contracts with JSC Atomstroyexport, a subsidiary of the Russian state nuclear corporation for the preparatory phase construction activities during 2013-2016.
As part of the preparatory work, in accordance with IAEA standards, a host of feasibility studies were conducted. In 2013, JSC Atomstroyexport was mandated to execute the preparatory phase of construction activities, including siting activities, feasibility evaluation, engineering surveys and environmental studies, development of design documentation and technical assignment for elaboration of design documentation of Rooppur NPP Unit 1 and Unit-2, preparation of documentation packages of the design and licensing activities, development of construction site and other activities.
Site and safety assessment for RNPP
Based on a comprehensive hydrological, hydraulic and morphological studies of the site, the scenario of the maximum probable flood (MPF) formation was determined. As per the publicly available government documents, in prediction of the MPF scenario, the combination of all possible hydrological events were taken into consideration. In June 2016, BAERA granted a siting license. Similarly, when the soil assessment report noted that soil had weak bearing capacity, Soil Stabilization Method by deep soil mixing technology has been adopted for improvement of soil below excavation pit for buildings and structures of Rooppur NPP.
As part of the studies, in order to ensure earthquake protection for the RNPP, seismic studies were also conducted. In addition, an environmental assessment was conducted for the RNPP site by Atomstroyexport (JSC ASE EC) as per the international standards set forth by IAEA. The environmental assessment report was subsequently submitted to Department of Environment, Bangladesh which issued site clearance for the project.
Basis the different site safety studies, Rooppur NPP project office submitted the necessary documents, as per requirements of siting license to Bangladesh Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority (BAERA). Subsequently, the BAERA granted the Siting Licence of the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant on 21 June 2016 to the project authority through proper evaluation of results, reports and documentations developed based on the siting studies of the preparatory stage.
The rules of the siting license also require the authorization holder to perform regular safety assessments, the Periodic Safety Reviews 47 (PSR).
It is evident that efforts were taken by concerned authorities of the Bangladesh government and the contractors to ensure the safety and sustainability of the RNPP project. The project adheres to the international guidelines on nuclear power plant construction and management in terms of site suitability, environmental protection and proper precautions have been undertaken to ensure protection in case of natural disasters. Once operational, RNPP will be an important source for Bangladesh’s energy needs. Multiple reports have shown that the power generation cost of RNPP will be much lower than that of coal-powered plants.
Writer: Md. Saiful Islam, Independent Researcher, MA in International Relations, South Asian University (SAARC University), New Delhi, India.
BDST: 1345 HRS, AUG 17, 2021