Can Bangladesh approach China and Russia for establishing more nuclear power plants?

IAEA, Nuclear waste, Russia, Bangladesh, Rosatom, Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, China

Bangladesh has been maintaining excellent relations with China and Russia, while in the recent years, Dhaka’s collaboration with Beijing and Moscow have significantly increased with China implementing massive infrastructural projects and Moscow implementing country’s first nuclear power plant named Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant.

The 2.4 GWe nuclear power plant is being constructed at Rooppur of Ishwardi upazila in Pabna District, on the bank of the river Padma, 87 miles (140 km) west of Dhaka. It will be the country’s first nuclear power plant, and the first of the two units is expected to go into operation in 2024. The VVER-1200/523 Nuclear reactor and critical infrastructures are being built by the Russian Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation. In the main construction period, the total number of employees will reach 12,500, including 2,500 specialists from Russia. It is expected to generate around 15 percent of the country’s electricity when completed.

In 2005, Bangladesh signed a nuclear cooperation agreement with China. In 2007, the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC) proposed two 500 MW nuclear reactors for Rooppur by 2015. In 2008, China offered funding for the project. Instead, the Bangladesh government started discussion with the Russian government a year later and on February 13 the two governments signed a memorandum of understanding. Rosatom said they would start construction by 2013.

In 2011, International Atomic Energy Agency conducted Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) mission in Bangladesh. Later on, IAEA approved a technical assistance project for the Rooppur nuclear power plant. In 2013 a group of Bangladeshi scientists and the global diaspora voiced profound concern over the safety and economic viability of the plant. Several separate issues were raised, from the unsuitability of the site to the obsolescence of the VVER-1000 model proposed, questionable financing arrangements and a lack of agreement with Russia over nuclear waste disposal.

In 2015, the proposal was delayed by a year. Rosatom offered a two VVER-1200 reactor power plant, increasing output to 2.4 GWe. On Dec. 25, 2015, representatives of the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission and the Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom signed the contract for the construction of the Rooppur nuclear power plant worth the equivalent of US$12.65 billion.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration (EIA), in its International Energy Outlook 2021 report, notes trends in global energy supply, demand, and emissions to 2050 that forecast the need for nuclear power. The report projects world energy consumption to rise around 50 percent by 2050, due to strong economic growth, increased access to energy and electricity, and rapid population growth in non-OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries and continents. CO2 equivalent and emissions (CO2e), which excludes emission changes from land use changes and forestry, are projected to grow in OECD countries by approximately 5 percent and in non-OECD countries by 35 percent between 2019 and 2050.

With the successful completion of Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant by Russian Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation, for the sake of environmental issue as well as ensuring power supply to country’s demands, policymakers in Bangladesh need to focus on taking measures for constructing at least 4-5 more nuclear power plants in the country within next ten years. In this case, Bangladesh may begin discussing this matter with two of its friendly nations – China and Russia, while both the countries are having significant lead in the field of nuclear power generation plants.

According to media report, China is putting special emphasis on increasing its existing nuclear capacity by building more than 150 new reactors by 2035 – eleven years from now. According to experts, China is the breakaway global leader in new nuclear construction. It has 21 nuclear reactors under construction which will have a capacity for generating more than 21 gigawatts of electricity, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. That is two and a half times more nuclear reactors under construction than any other country.

China currently has 55 operable reactors that produce 3 percent of its electricity. The country aims to produce 10 percent of its electricity from nuclear power by 2035 and 18 percent by 2060.

Jacopo Buongiorno, professor of nuclear science and engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told media, “China is the de facto world leader in nuclear technology at the moment”.

China is “the determined and pacing leader in global nuclear ambition at the moment”, agrees Kenneth Luongo, president and founder of the Partnership for Global Security, a nuclear and transnational security and energy policy non-profit. China is “leading, even racing ahead,” Luongo said.

On the other hand, the United States has 93 nuclear reactors operating with capacity to generate more than 95 gigawatts of electricity, according to the IAEA That is more than any other country by far. Many of those reactors should be viable for some time to come, as nuclear reactors can be licensed to operate for 60 years and in some cases for as long as 80 years, the World Nuclear Association said in a 2023 report on the nuclear supply chain.

The country with the next most operating nuclear reactors is France, with 56 and a capacity for generating more than 61 gigawatts, according to the IAEA. China comes in third with 55 operating reactors and capacity of over 53 gigawatts.

“It is generally agreed that the U.S. has lost its global dominance in nuclear energy. The trend began in the mid-1980s”, Luongo said.

China was just getting started as the United States nuclear industry began to take a back seat.

“China began building its first reactor in 1985, just as the US nuclear build-out began a steep decline”, Luongo added.

Power follows demand, so the new nuclear reactors tend to be built where fast-developing economies need power to fuel their growth.

While more than 70 percent of existing nuclear capacity is located in countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, nearly 75 percent of the nuclear reactors currently under construction are in non-OECD countries, and half of those are in China, according to the World Nuclear Association’s recent supply chain report.

As China’s economy has grown, so too has its energy output. China’s total energy output reached 7,600 terawatt hours in 2020, a massive increase from 1,280 terawatt hours in 2000, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

“The primary imperative is to meet what has been a staggering growth in demand over the past twenty years,” John F. Kotek, senior vice president of policy development and public affairs of the nuclear advocacy group, the Nuclear Energy Institute, told reporters. “So they haven’t just been building a lot of nuclear, they’ve been building a lot of everything.”

But China’s use of coal to meet its surging demand for electricity has caused a secondary problem: dirty air. “With the huge growth in coal use, along with a dramatic increase in private vehicle ownership, has come a dire need for more clean electricity generation,” Kotek told reporters.

Nuclear energy generation does not release any of the greenhouse gasses that contribute to air pollution and global warming, so China has turned to nuclear as a way to produce large quantities of clean energy fast.

“The Chinese have been pro-nuclear for a long time, but now they seem to have committed to a truly massive scale up to 150 gigawatts in 15 years. And they seem to be on track to meet that goal,” Buongiorno said,

“This will be the largest expansion of nuclear capacity in history, by far,” Buongiorno said.

China kickstarted its nuclear program by buying reactors from France, the United States and Russia, Luongo told reporters, and built primary homegrown reactor, the Hualong, with cooperation with France.

One reason for China’s dominance is the government’s strong control over the energy sector, and most of the economy.

“They built a state-supported, financed industry that allows them to build multiple nuclear units at lower cost,” Luongo said. “They don’t have any secret sauce other than state financing, state supported supply chain, and a state commitment to build the technology.”

According to latest information State Council has approved the construction of four new nuclear reactors. Two Hualong One reactors will be built at both the Taipingling and Jinqimen sites.

The decision was confirmed at the meeting of the Standing Committee of the State Council, chaired by Chinese Premier Li Qiang. China General Nuclear runs the Taipingling nuclear power plant in Guangdong province, where units 3 and 4 will be built. Units 1 and 2 will be constructed at the China National Nuclear Corporation-operated Jinqimen nuclear power plant in Zhejiang province.

Construction of the first and second units at the Taipingling plant began in 2019 and 2020, respectively. Unit 1 is scheduled to commence production in 2025. The plant will eventually host six reactors producing around 50 terawatt-hours of power.

Jinqimen also plans to host six units, but the plant is still in the pre-construction stage. In June, the Ministry of Ecology and Environment accepted the environmental impact assessment documents for units 1 and 2, approving construction to go ahead. Unit 1 is scheduled to commence operations by the end of 2028.

China is turning to nuclear power to try to meet its carbon emissions goals. At the beginning of December, the nation announced it had started commercial operations at the fourth-generation Shidaowan plant in the northern Shandong province. The reactor is the first of its kind in the world and has a modular design to use fuel more efficiently.

Meanwhile, according to CGTN, the world’s first fourth-generation nuclear power plant, Huaneng Shandong Shidao Bay Nuclear Power Plant in eastern China’s Shandong Province, went into commercial operation on December 6, 2023 and has been running well, according to officials at the plant.

The power plant has drawn global attention as it adopts High Temperature Gas-Cooled Reactor-Pebble-bed Module (HTR-PM), which is claimed to be able to steer away from a meltdown or leak of radioactive materials even in extreme conditions.

“In the past few weeks of its commercial use, our two reactors in the power unit have maintained the initial full power stable operation. They generate electricity every day with the power of 150 megawatts,” said Zhang Yijin, a chief operator at the power plant.

“The state of the unit, including the operation of various parameters are very stable. Then the electricity we generate is supplied to the Shandong power grid and distributed for use,” he added.

One of the major features of the fourth-generation reactors is the nuclear fuel which is made into a small sphere shaped like a tennis ball, and each reactor has up to 430,000 of them.

“This sphere is 6 centimeters in diameter, and inside it, are 12,000 one-millimeter coated fuel particles. And inside the particles, there’s a very small fuel core, and four layers of ceramic armor,” said Tong Liyun, another chief operator at the plant.

“The entire ceramic armor can withstand very high temperatures, and under any working conditions, the temperature of the fuel ball will not exceed the temperature that the ceramic armor can tolerate,” Tong said.

He stressed that in this way, the design ensures that radioactive materials will not leak out.

The operator said that each sphere has the energy equal to 1.5 tonnes of coal and there is no need for the usual procedure of temporarily shutting down reactors for refueling, allowing constant operation.

The operating reactors are cooled by the inert gas helium instead of water. And they also use a passive residual heat removal system which is the key assurance for the inherent safety of high-temperature gas-cooled reactors.

Construction of the power plant began in 2012. It was connected to the grid in 2021 and went into commercial operation in 2023.

It is expected to contribute to the region’s electricity supply and set an example for further development of fourth-generation nuclear power plants.

In safely using nuclear energy, China is utilizing its own third-generation nuclear power technologies like “Hualong-One” and the country is making concrete steps towards more advanced technologies like the one used in Shidao Bay.

Meanwhile, according to media reports, in October 2023 new Russian nuclear power plant, named Akademik Lomonosov, which is the only floating one of its kind in the world has been set to first refuel and nuclear fuel has been delivered to the world’s first floating nuclear power plant, which is located in Pevek in the Chukotka region of north-east Russia. The plant supplies heat and power to the town and is based on two KLT-40S reactors generating 35MW each.

According to TVEL’s Elektrostal Machine-Building Plant, unlike land-based reactors that require replacement of a proportion of their fuel rods every 12–18 months, “the refuelling takes place once every few years and incudes unloading of the entire reactor core and loading of fresh fuel into the reactor”. As such, there can be up to three and a half years between refueling.

Akademik Lomonosov first became operational in December 2019. At the time the reactor was seen as a pilot project for a future fleet of floating nuclear power plants and onshore installations based on Russian-made small modular reactors. Due to their functionality, they are intended for deployment in disparate areas of Russia’s north and far-east. The operable reactor was named after 18th century Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov, who was the first native Russian to be appointed to the Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg in 1742.

The plant is 144m long and 30m wide. It supplies electricity to the town of Pevek, which has a population of around 4,000, but could potentially supply a city of up to 100,000 people. Rosatom is currently constructing four floating power units, which it plans to export.

In June 2023, Andrey Nikipelov, Rosatom’s deputy director-general for mechanical engineering and industrial solutions, said: “In addition to environmental friendliness and stable operation, floating nuclear power units are able to provide energy independence – both from the main power grids and, in a broader sense, protection from the volatility of energy markets… floating power units have great commercial potential both in Russia and abroad.”

Why Bangladesh needs to switch to nuclear power plants?

According to experts, nuclear power is vitally important to the future of the environment. Coal usage globally is on the rise, skewering COP 27 pledges to reduce CO2 and methane emissions. China and India have pledged to grow coal use indefinitely. Both are purchasing increased volumes of fossil fuels from Russia at a deep discount.

With Asian and African nations attaining tremendous economic progress with their population also at growth, only nuclear power has the ability for reliable baseload electrical generation while producing zero-carbon to counter the growing demand for energy security and lowering emissions. According to experts, using nuclear power; particularly advanced nuclear technology is the appropriate solution to growing demand for electricity. In this case, Bangladesh needs to immediately begin discussion with various countries, including the US, European nations, China, and Russia for the establishment of at least 4-5 additional nuclear power plants in the country by 2034.

Meanwhile, Bangladesh also needs to chalk-out plans to gradually shut-down its existing diesel-based and coal-based power plants, as part of the country’s commitment to environmental issues. In this regard, foreign companies may be encouraged to establish those nuclear power plants at their own investments and later get the investment refunded through income generated from the sale of electricity to the end customers.

In my opinion, this can be easily implemented once Bangladesh immediately begins the process of inviting foreign companies to submit their proposal with the provision of 100 percent investment on their own.


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