Q&A: ‘Bangladesh’s energy future is nuclear’

Copyright: Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology

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  • Bangladesh needs nuclear energy if it is to become a middle income country by 2021
  • To meet a 38,000 megawatts demand by 2030 Bangladesh has limited options
  • Solar is expensive and wind is viable only in coastal Bangladesh

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Bangladesh plans to construct two nuclear power plants for electricity generation. What is your opinion?

For a country with a vast population and one that aims to become a middle income country by 2021, nuclear is the only option. But to reach that goal we need vision, infrastructure and manpower.

What advantages will nuclear energy bring to Bangladesh?

Compared to oil, gas and coal the advantages are huge. Nuclear energy takes up less space and causes virtually no environmental damage. Except for its initial investment the technology is cost-effective. Our gas reserve is depleting by the day and we are dependent on imported oil, which is expensive with prices fluctuating in the international market. So, nuclear is our future option.

We need 26,000 megawatts of electricity by 2020 and 38,000 megawatts by 2030. Currently we generate around 11,000 megawatts with a big portion coming from India and from gas, hydro and barge-mounted generators. Nuclear is expensive at the initial stage but once installed it is cheaper than oil and gas in routine operation.

How does Bangladesh compare in nuclear energy to India and Pakistan?

We have nothing like what India and Pakistan have. India plans well ahead so that when the technology arrives the Indian team takes over to control and run everything. We certainly need nuclear power but we are not yet ready. We are currently negotiating with the Russians. But we cannot, say, hire the Russians to install reactors and hand over the plant one fine morning. Once we agree on the design, we would have to figure out the financial side. The process takes time, as there are many laws to be formulated.

Can we have a nuclear power plant by 2020 as proposed?

It is absolutely absurd. For a nuclear power plant we need initial time for processing which takes five—seven years. We have many challenges ahead, like for instance, the required infrastructure for safety, less densely populated areas, constant river water supply. You cannot just drop a reactor and start to generate electricity. These must come one step at a time.

What about the manpower and experience from running the reactor at the Atomic Energy Research Establishment in Savar?

The manpower at Savar is mainly for research and education purposes. People trained in research with the reactor and people trained in power generation with the reactor are not the same. We need freshly trained nuclear scientists who can do the job of handling reactors for power generation. The Savar reactor is mainly used for medical applications of nuclear energy.

In the event of any major nuclear accident do we have any laws on liabilities?

As we are now moving towards nuclear technology we need to have legislations that are in line with the international conventions. In fact, laws are in the making right now.

There are safety concerns too?

Modern nuclear plants are designed to be installed in populated places such as Bangladesh. These technologies are far safer than the decades-old technologies used in Fukushima and Chernobyl, which did not have protection against leakage.  In fact, the nuclear plant we are planning to have will use 2015 technology and so, in terms of safety, we face no problem.

What about alternatives such as solar and wind energy? Do they hold any promise for Bangladesh?

Solar energy has a huge potential and it is indeed the perfect technology because it is sustainable, cost effective and environment-friendly. However, it has to be affordable and we must own the technology, not just import and assemble. What we are doing right now is importing solar panels and simply assembling them for sale. We must also develop human resources and train people in manufacturing such high-tech devices. As for wind power, it is costly and not viable except in the coastal districts.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South Asia desk.