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Nuclear power plant, a visible option for starved Bangladesh
Asif Parvez

A NUMBER of private sector nuclear power plants are operating in California and other part of the Unites of America. Although nuclear power plants require high capital expenditures but their operating costs are very low like those of hydropower plans. It also requires additional investments to enhance the safety factors for both plant and equipment as well as heavy constructions. A nuclear power plant may have, now, an average operating cost of about two cent per kwh, while capital cost may range from USD($) 700 thousand to $800 thousand per MW. The average total investment cost of a hydropower plant may stand over $1.0 million per MW.
And the capital cost for the safety and environment protection of a hydropower plant is quite high compared to that of a nuclear power plant. Prospects of, and opportunities for, building new hydropower plants all over the world are also very limited. Technological and scientific efforts for reduction of average investment costs of hydropower plants including their maintenance are very capital intensive. For protection and safety and rehabilitation of the wild life, heritage and the nature, hydropower plant potentials are negatively looked into and the job may be very difficult.
While scientific and technological research and lab work for nuclear power plant are significantly increasing in the developed world. Asian countries -- China and others, having nuclear power plants and access to the Atomic Energy Research facility -- cannot simply avoid scientific research and human resource development efforts. It is hoped that scientific and engineering knowhow of nuclear power plants will be more and more reachable to the Asian countries, in spite of the irritants and resistance of the western world. The paucity of capital investments for these purposes may not also be very difficult to overcome by state entrepreneurs, foreign private investors and investment giants in the Asian regions.
New nuclear power plants with high safety factors in the developed countries will be built in greater numbers. Because of trained human resources and scientific and engineering personnel that are available in those countries, investors for nuclear power plants feel comfortable and confident to run those plants with minimum hazards. The world opinion is being strongly built in favour of civil nuclear power plant , while nuclear plants for military purposes should be isolated from peaceful usages of atomic energy.
The problem-issues with the disposal of nuclear wastes in the power plant still remain the most critical area on the way to develop such plants in the world. Technological advancements have already brought costs of the handling, transportation and dumping of nuclear power plant wastes within reasonable scale. But the burial and dumping caves and cages are needed to be built and preserved under the guaranteed process. Waste leakages during transportation cannot be accepted under any circumstances. These are, however, no more difficult to organise, and adequate money could be allocated even within very low operating costs of nuclear power plants.
Again the question remains, whether nuclear power plants could be built in the private sector and or with private participations under the state-owned highly secured management and operating authority. The answer is: what is possible in the USA, that may not be possible even in Canada and other European countries, no question of any Asian country. What is an industry in the USA, may not be treated as an industry or business venture in other countries. Nuclear power plants are obviously very a important part of defense and infrastructure industry.
Their safety and security rank in the top order of any country as well as for the world. Therefore, initiating an investment dream for nuclear power plant must be originated from the think-bank of the government of that country. It would require supports of nuclear countries and the International Atomic Energy Commission (IAEC).
Bangladesh has two oldest energy development projects, namely Ruppur Nuclear Power Plant and Jamalgonj Coal Mine, initiated in the early '60s by the Pakistani regime. Those were mere propaganda and symbolic projects and paper allocations were made during the pre-liberation period to appease the then East Pakistanis to erase the sense of disparity from their minds. Nothing tangible could be done at that time. Only land acquisition and some useless civil constructions were made to waste money. Even compensations for land acquisition were made to hundreds of ghost owners. For that purpose, the then Deputy Commissioner (DC) Pabna, a young powerful CSP officer was dismissed from services and he had built a big commercial building at Motijheel C/A in the mid-sixties.
But the philosophy behind initiating those two energy development projects reveals the very fact that any sovereign country needs a balanced energy mix for its sustainable development. Without electricity, no nation can help accelerate its economic progress and meet the people's aspirations. Energy is the fourth basic requirement after food, cloth and shelter for any people in the world.
Bangladesh is constrained with many closed and extreme ends. Its people are highly religious, sometimes religiocity makes them blind and poor. It obstacles their access to science and technology. On the other hand, single dependency for almost all the vital important needs of life causes hardships in every sphere of the ordinary life of the people. For example, ground water from deep tub-well is almost the single source of water supplies in most of the cities in Bangladesh. Natural gas is the only indigenous source of commercial energy in the country. And most of the families have single bread earners.
We are to get rid of such single dependency. In order to have rational and balanced fuel-mix for electricity generation in the country, nuclear power plant could be a positive approach. Just few years before, the incumbent government wanted to export gas. Then the concerned State Minister used to claim that there would be gas supply-glut in the country, once UNOCAL commences production from Bibyana gas field. Furthermore, Petrobangla and its three gas production companies and one joint-venture and the other international oil companies (IOCs) have expansion programmes. What happened to those programmes? Gas rationing, closure of Tongi power plant and some other relevent units have been taken to overcome the severe gas crisis prevailing in the country.
This situation is likely to continue for an indefinite period because of single dependence on natural gas to meet the ever-increasing energy demand by power, industry and domestic sectors. A balanced energy planning with alternative energy-mix option was never drawn up in Bangladesh. Gas should not remain the dominant and prime fuel for electricity generation mix. The requirement for peaking gas fired generations is already having severe knock-on impact for the line-pack requirements of the gas system. It would be quite pragmatic to say that power supply situation will be very tight and gap between electricity demand and supply will be ever widening, making the security of the power system to remain poor or even decline in the next decades. The country is posed to aspire for accelerated development and electricity remains as the most vital important input for early development of the country. In this context, Bangladesh is likely witness a chaotic condition in its energy supply balance system.
The only coal fired power plant basing on Barapukaria Coal Mine, Dinajpur may not be commercially operative for an indefinite period due to continued uncertainty over the coal-mine's operation. The coal-mine appears to be in the hand of a technologically poor Chinese operational and management company. The other planned coal mines with very meagre chance to provide a new and dependable source of fuel supply for power generation in the country will be difficult to successfully operate under very adverse underground hydro-geological conditions.
Amidst so many uncertainties over expansion of existing, and addition of new, gas fields to augment gas production in Bangladesh as well as too much unrealistic scenario of coal development prospects in the absence of dependable technology within affordable investments and operating costs, Bangladesh may opt for imports of hydropower from Nepal and Bhutan. But that will require a nod from the big neighbour, India. At the same time, the sharing of imported Myanmar gas and or from the Indian multi-national gas grid from the western front, will require blessings and arrangements of the big neighbour, India.
Against all those scenarios, what is about to open the window for a nuclear power plant to be built in Bangladesh? For this purpose, all efforts were in vain in the past. The government of Bangladesh (GOB) may approach some capable private sector promoters abroad. At the same time, dialogues with China, France and the USA may be strongly pursued in this regard.
The economic ministers placed in our foreign missions should have adequate knowledge of energy issues in the modern world. The main barrier to development of projects like nuclear power plants would be lack of human resources. But right planning and initiatives to gather engineers, scientists, technologists of Bangladeshi, sub-continental and Asian origins working abroad, may be of the beginning and the first priority step. We have the potential and meritorious people at home and abroad. What we need is to get close to, motivate and train, them.