This project for the nuclear power plant at Rooppur was taken up in the sixties. It has taken an inordinately long time for implementation. Even then, experts are still talking about all sorts of risks involved. Why?

The proposal to construct the Rooppur nuclear power plant was first made in 1961. Then in 1963, land was acquired in the village of Rooppur by the river Padma to set up a 200MW power plant. In 2009, the Bangladesh government approved of a plan to set up a 1000 MW power plant with Russian assistance. Later it was decided that instead of one reactor, a 2400 MW power plant would be constructed with two 1200 MW reactors. This is now underway.

There are more or less some risks always involved in any large technology-dependent infrastructure. The reason that nuclear power plants come into focus in this regard is that nuclear accidents can be more damaging, extensive and far-reaching than any other accident. There are the examples of Chernobyl and Fukushima, among others. Even so, many countries operate nuclear power plants with technology to safeguard against accidents. The effectiveness of measures against risks depends on the advanced anti-risk technology being used, and the technical competence and experience of the workforce in using such technology. Bangladesh's lack of skills and experience in this regard is certainly a weakness. If we have to be entirely dependent on foreign experts to tackle any possible accident or crisis, there naturally will be apprehensions within the country.

Bangladesh is a country prone to natural disaster, climate change risks and is densely populated. Have nuclear power plants been set up in any other such country? How much attention has been paid to these factors, in constructing this plant in Bangladesh?

I do not know of any country in the world as densely populated as Bangladesh where a nuclear plant has been set up. I believe this factor was taken into consideration when the feasibility study was carried out for the Rooppur nuclear power plant project. However, the Indian state of West Bengal has an environment similar to ours. The Indian government has taken up a plan to construct a nuclear power plant there, but the West Bengal government rejected it.

An important factor in such projects is to have an evacuation plan in times of crisis. If any accident occurs in a nuclear plant, the people in the surrounding areas must be shifted away immediately. They have to be taken at least 20 km away from the plant immediately to avoid radiation. Like any other part of the country, Rooppur in Pabna district is densely populated. There is no information on how, if the need arises, these people in the areas adjacent to the plant can be removed from the area, how fast they can be removed, where they can be taken and what preparations are required. The local people must also be made aware of this.

A nuclear power plant is an extremely sensitive and risky installation. It is imperative to ensure its proper management and safety. Are there any security concerns about the Rooppur nuclear power plant?

According to Rosatom, the Russian atomic energy corporation constructing Rooppur power plant, the two reactors installed in Rooppur are Generation III+ advanced VVER-1200 model reactors. These reactors have five-tier security management. Rosatom says there is no need to worry about any risks in this plant. But the fact remains, accidents always come suddenly and unexpectedly, never come announced. The technology at Rooppur may be advanced. But this naturally is not on par with the technology used in the Apollo space modules to travel to the moon and back. Yet even an Apollo spacecraft sent to the moon by NASA was destroyed in an accident midway. There is no such thing as absolute safety. And our problems are even more because we are very weak in information sharing and the use of information. Rooppur is the biggest project in Bangladesh till date. However, no discussion or debate has been heard in parliament about this. There is no extensive public awareness on the pros and cons of the project, particularly in the area where it is being set up. The awareness of the people in that area is a big question.

Basically Russian experts, along with some Indian experts, are involved in the Rooppur nuclear plant construction, being made with Russian credit. No initiative was taken to include anyone from Bangladesh in this, so that they could be trained and gain the required skills. How risky is this?

The Russians will be in charge of operating the Rooppur power plants once it is complete. It has also been learnt that a team from India will be in charge of certain parts. No Bangladeshi team can take charge of operating this plant due to the lack of skills and knowledge required in this regard. This is certainly a weakness for us. Bangladeshi scientists and technicians are being trained, but it takes a long time to gain the experience to operate such a plant. We are at the moment totally dependent on the foreign experts. No one can say when we will be able to emerge from this dependency.

The Indian nuclear power programme began in the sixties under the renowned Indian physicist Homi Bhaba. And till take, all the nuclear power plants that have been built there, have been basically made run by Indians. From the 200 MW nuclear power plant in Tarapur set up in 1969, India gradually earned experience in building larger nuclear power plants and today is competent in the field. But we are going ahead to establish a 2400 MW nuclear power plant with no experience whatsoever. We don't even know when we will be able to take charge of it ourselves. This 100 per cent dependency is certainly a risk. If there is any difference of opinion over running the plant or over any other issue, Bangladesh will always be under pressure to relent to the other party.

In economic terms, how justified do you think it is to construct the Rooppur nuclear power plant at a cost of around Tk 125 billion (Tk 1,25,000 crore)? Many   persons say that 2400MW of electricity will be generated from the Rooppur plant at this cost, while it is possible to generate the same amount of electricity at a much lower cost from a non-nuclear plant. So out of what consideration was this plant taken up?

The Tk 125 billion for Rooppur power plant is certainly a big sum of money. Outside of that, there is the cost of operations, maintenance, fuel, nuclear waste management and finally the decommissioning of the plant. So actually the costs are much higher. So it is true that it is possible to generate power at a cost much lower than Rooppur if those funds were used to set up several non-nuclear power plants. But nuclear power plants do not generate the pollution generated by coal or oil-fired power plants. Anti-nuclear plant lobbies claim that such plants can create radioactive pollution. This debate will continue globally, but the fact remains that the construction of the Rooppur power plant will be complete within a year or two. It wasn't planned overnight, but many, many years ago. Once the nuclear plant goes into operation, a new dimension will be added to Bangladesh's multidimensional use of energy. Many also feel that Bangladesh will then enter the nuclear age, and that will be a boost to the country's prestige.

If the huge funds used on nuclear power plants is invested in generated renewable energy, that will be sustainable and appropriate. Bangladesh must proceed in that direction.

How much will the per unit cost of electricity generated from the Rooppur plant be? Will it be cost effective?

A university-level research indicates that the per unit production cost of electricity at the Rooppur plant will be 9.36 cents, that is, Tk 7.94. Power generated from India's Kudankulam nuclear power plant costs 5.36 cents. The reason for the higher cost at Rooppur is its much higher construction costs (12.65 billion dollars). However, quoting the minister for science and technology, reports in Bangladesh's media say that the production cost of per unit of electricity from Rooppur will be Tk 4.50. It is to be seen how this will impact the cost of electricity at the consumer level.

The construction of this power plant is being done with 90 per cent loans from Russia. Many feel that the repayment of this loan will put pressure on Bangladesh's economy. What do you think?

Other than the Rooppur nuclear power plant, many mega projects are implemented with foreign loans. But among these, Rooppur's loan is sky high, 90 per cent of the total expenditure, around USD 11.38 billion. Then there will be a large sum of interest to pay too. It is generally believed that repayment of such a massive sum will put pressure on Bangladesh's economy.

There are plans for more power plants after Rooppur. How do you see the future of nuclear power in Bangladesh?

We do not have the technical competence or experience to operate or manage nuclear power plants or to take charge of these. As our Rooppur experience has been kept totally foreign-dependent and because constructing big nuclear power plants is multiple times costlier than other types of power plants, Bangladesh should not plan on establishing any more big nuclear power plants. But Bangladesh can look into new ways of using nuclear technology, like small modular reactor-dependent power plants that generate 10 to 300MW of electricity. These are small and can be transferred by truck or train from one place to another.

Many countries are moving away from using large conventional nuclear power plants as these are not environment-friendly. The entire world is moving towards renewable energy, like solar power and wind power. If the huge funds used on nuclear power plants is invested to generate renewable energy, that will be sustainable and appropriate. Bangladesh must proceed in that direction.

Thank you

Thank you too