Rooppur nuclear power plant is the first nuclear power plant in Bangladesh, and in terms of expense, it’s the biggest mega project in the country’s history. The two under-construction units of this nuclear power plant at Rooppur, Ishwardi Upazila of Pabna, will be able to produce a total of 2400 megawatts of electricity daily. According to project authorities, Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant will contribute 10 percent of the country’s total electricity generation by 2030. Besides, this power plant will play a vital role in reducing the unit cost of electricity production in the country as well as reducing the dependence on fossil fuels like gas-oil-coal for power production, which will simultaneously protect the country’s natural resources, and enhance Bangladesh’s energy security and prevent environmental pollution associated with fossil fuels. This article is a comprehensive discussion about the economic impact of the Rooppur nuclear power plant.
Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC) has been implementing this project with the help of Russia under the supervision of the Ministry of Science and Technology of the Government of Bangladesh since November 2017. The budget of the project is estimated to be around $13 (12.65) billion or BDT 1 lakh 14 thousand crores. Russia is financing $11.39 billion or 90 percent of this cost. Which has to be paid with interest at the rate of 4 percent within 28 years after the implementation of the project. However, if necessary, there is an option to extend this repayment period up to 10 years. As a result, Bangladesh will also be able to repay this debt easily due to such a simple loan policy. Even, Bangladesh will be able to repay this debt with the income from this power plant. The rest of the budget will be borne from the Bangladesh government funds. In terms of cost, Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant is the largest ever mega project in Bangladesh. The general construction of the project was entrusted to JSC Atomstroyexport, a subsidiary of the Russian Nuclear Energy Corporation – Rosatom. Two units of the Rooppur nuclear power plant have been targeted for commercial production from February 2024. The Rooppur nuclear power plant consists primarily of two units, each with a capacity of 1200 MW, which, after construction, will produce 2400 MW of electricity. According to a Prothom Alo source, the Rooppur nuclear power plant has a total lifespan of 60 years, and the production capacity of the two units ranges from a minimum of 50 to a maximum of 90 percent.
Nuclear power plants have been generating electricity since the 1950s. According to a source from the International Atomic Energy Agency, at the end of 2021, there are a total of 437 nuclear reactors operational in 34 countries of the world, which together are producing a total of 3 lakh 89 thousand 508 megawatts of electricity. In addition, another 56 reactors are currently under construction in 19 countries, including two reactors at Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant in Bangladesh. If these reactors are operational, another 58 thousand 96 megawatts of electricity can be generated. However, the 1986 Chornobyl disaster in Ukraine and the 2011 earthquake and tsunami at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant have led many to be skeptical of nuclear power plants worldwide. After these two disasters, improvements in nuclear power plant technology have made it possible to reduce the risk factor to a large extent. Although electricity can be generated using renewable energy such as solar or wind, the initial investment in setting up such power plants is high. Due to this, the generation of electricity from nuclear power plants is very cost-effective. Considering these things, it was necessary for Bangladesh to start electricity generation using nuclear power much earlier. Although Bangladesh joined the era of nuclear power plants very late, if this project is successful, Bangladesh may do more with nuclear power in the future.
According to a source from the Bangladesh Power Division, Bangladesh currently has an electricity generation capacity of more than 25 thousand (25,566) megawatts. According to the Power System Master Plan of the Power Department, a target of 60,000 MW has been set by 2041. Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant will play an important role in achieving this target. However, the master plan anticipated that 35 percent of the country’s electricity generation to come from natural gas, 35 percent from coal, and 30 percent from liquid fuel, nuclear, renewable, and other sources. On the other hand, currently, more than 44 percent of Bangladesh’s electricity production is produced from gas.
Meanwhile, if the Ruppur nuclear power plant of 2400 MW is commissioned, this power plant alone will be able to produce more than 8 percent of the country’s total production capacity. Which will play an important role in reducing the country’s dependence on gas, oil, and coal-based energy. Bangladesh’s electricity generation is currently dependent on coal, gas, and fuel oil, a large part of which has to be imported from the spot market or oil-producing countries in the Middle East. These fuel prices often rise due to global events like inflation, economic sanctions, and wars. For example, there is currently instability in the world’s fuel oil market due to post-pandemic global inflation and the Ukraine-Russia war. Due to this, Bangladesh’s cost of fuel import has increased, which is causing additional pressure on Bangladesh’s foreign exchange reserves. Apart from this, the government has been forced to take initiatives like load-shedding at scheduled times due to not being able to import fuel as per the demand. When the Ruppur nuclear power plant will be in operation, the dominance of fossil fuels in Bangladesh’s power sector will be reduced to some extent, which will also contribute to the country’s energy security.
Generating electricity from nuclear power plants is also quite cost-effective as compared to electricity generation from gas-oil-coal or renewable sources. In Bangladesh, thermal power plants have an average capacity of 50 percent, while nuclear power plants have an average capacity of 90 percent.
Meanwhile, two VVER-1200 reactors are being installed at the Rooppur power plant with 93 percent capacity. According to PDB, currently the average cost of producing electricity per kilowatt in public and private sectors in Bangladesh is BDT 6.61. Besides, the cost of generating electricity per kilowatt using diesel, furnace oil, and coal is BDT 28.17, BDT 13.77, and BDT 8.25, respectively. On the other hand, Uranium-235 will be used as fuel in the Rooppur nuclear power plant, through which the cost of power generation for the first two decades is expected to be BDT 4 to BDT 4.50 per unit. According to Euro Nuclear, 8 and 12 kilowatts of electricity can be produced per kg of coal and fuel oil, respectively, while about 24,000 megawatts of electricity can be generated from each kg of Uranium-235. Also, since uranium is a radioactive metal, it is not directly traded in the open or spot market. Due to this, the purchase and sale of uranium are also very regulated, as a result, any country cannot purchase more uranium than it needs. Therefore, the price of uranium is quite stable.
The government of Bangladesh buys electricity from government power plants, independent power producers, rental and quick rental, and India and supplies it to the public. Meanwhile, the power generation capacity is about 50 percent more than the country’s demand. Due to this, the government has to pay tens of thousands of crores of subsidies every year as the capacity payment. As a result, the government is losing a lot of money every year. In view of this, the government is planning to close the rental and quick rental power plants by 2024. By doing this, the government’s expenditure on purchasing electricity will be reduced to a large extent. On the other hand, since the cost of power generation from nuclear power plants is low, in the future, it will be possible for the government to make affordable pricing without increasing the price of electricity. Besides, by the year 2030, besides the transportation sector of Bangladesh, the demand for electricity will also increase in many other sectors. For example, the Dhaka Metrorail will be fully electrified, and the government is working to introduce electric vehicles in the under-construction BRT project as well. Since the demand for electricity is constantly increasing, if the government can keep the price of supplied electricity low, then the operational cost of Metrorail and electric vehicles can also be kept low, which will directly benefit the people of the country.
Apart from meeting the electricity demand, Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant will also play a role in socio-economic development of the country. In Ishwardi, there is already an EPZ covering 309 acres, with 324 industrial plots. Ishwardi EPZ will have direct access to electricity if Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant is functional. This will make the productive activities there more efficient, and more foreign companies will be interested in investing there. This will create jobs for many people in Ishwardi Upazila. Besides, since Bangladesh is a production-oriented economy, uninterrupted electricity is very important for production. Electricity production will increase in the country due to Rooppur nuclear power plant, which will also support manufacturing industries. On the other hand, since Bangladesh’s biggest USP is low-cost production, keeping power generation costs low will enable Bangladesh to retain its low-cost production capacity and give an advantage to the country’s export sector. This will have a positive effect on the country’s economy.
Besides, Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant will also play an important role in restraining the most talked issue of the present time, “Environmental Pollution.” It is possible to reduce the amount of harmful gases in the Earth’s atmosphere by generating electricity using nuclear energy. The Bangladesh government has decided to reduce the country’s heat-trapping emissions by 21.85 percent by 2030. The biggest cause of air pollution in the country is the operation of power plants using fossil fuels. Considering all aspects, the establishment of nuclear power plants is quite advantageous for Bangladesh. Besides, Bangladesh has signed an agreement with Russia for nuclear waste disposal of power plants. In this way, there is almost no chance of environmental damage due to radiation in taking the nuclear waste emitted from the power plant back to Russia.
Apart from this, Bangladesh will benefit from the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant because many jobs will be created. As this power plant is the first nuclear power plant in the country, it will require skilled manpower to work here. More than 4,500 foreign engineers are currently working on the Rooppur project, most of them from Russia. Besides, some skilled engineers from Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and India are also working on this project. As of 2019, 17 Indian experts have worked as consultants on the project. Five more have been appointed in 2019. In addition, 3 more international experts from Germany and America are working on the project as part-time consultants, and several more experts from Russia will join the project in 2022. Moreover, Bangladeshi experts are also providing regular advice as members of various committees. On the other hand, 1 thousand 424 Bangladeshi workers are being sent to Russia step by step for field-level training for the operation and maintenance of power plants. As a result, a new skilled labor force is being created in the country. Besides, the opportunity will be created for the current and future generations who want to study nuclear energy. This is the first project of Bangladesh using nuclear energy, and if it is successful, Bangladesh should undertake more such projects in the future. The success of this project may bring new investments in the nuclear energy sector of Bangladesh. By doing so, Bangladesh’s energy crisis can be reduced.