Some Bangladeshi scientists want the model of the nuclear reactor, proposed for the Rooppur nuclear power plant project, to be changed to a newer one.
On the concluding day of a two-day international seminar in Dhaka on nuclear power, they said the VVER-1000 reactor had fewer safety features than the newer VVER-1200, which is an advanced model.
They suggested that another international seminar be held to exclusively discuss the VVER-1000 with representatives of countries using the model.
The country's first nuclear power plant is supposed to be built in Rooppur on the Padma river in Pabna. Over the years, several deals have been signed with Russia regarding the plant.
Yesterday at the “Nuclear Power: A Chance of Successful Economic, Social and Political Development” seminar, officials of the Russian state atomic corporation, Rosatom, claimed that both the reactors had similar safety features and that the only difference between them was capacity.
The VVER-1000 reactor was developed and introduced by Russia in the 80's. There are allegations that many countries cancelled construction of it on safety grounds. Later, Russia developed the VVER-1200 and some reactors of this type are now being built.
Vice-President Yu Sokolov of Rosatom ruled out any safety lacking of the VVER-1000 reactor, saying, “It is the customer's choice to select reactor model.”
Director Communication S Novikov of Rosatom said both models were equally safe. “If any customer wants to take additional safety applications, they have to spend additional money on that,” he later told The Daily Star.
Asked about the number of older reactors declining and that Russia itself had stopped the construction of VVER-1000, he said a total of 31 VVER-1000 reactors were in operation globally, 10 of them in Russian and 15 in Ukraine.
“We are constructing a couple more in Russia,” he added.
However, Abdul Motin, former chief engineer of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission, said, “People are concerned about the safety of nuclear power plants. My suggestion is to organise another seminar where operation experience of the older model will be discussed elaborately.”
Echoing him, Prof Azizur Rahman of the department of physics at Dhaka University said Bangladesh should pursue the latest model as it has more safety features.
According to Wikipedia, the oldest VVER-1000 reactor, which went into commercial operation in 1981, had to be shutdown in 2010 so that its life could be extended by another 30 years. The VVER-1200 is expected to last up to 50 years.
Jasim Uddin Ahmed, a former director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said the seminar skipped discussions on ecological impacts of the proposed power plant.
Developing infrastructure for implementing a nuclear power project, educating manpower for construction, operating the project and waste management issues were discussed on the last day of the seminar.
Alexey Utenkov, head of the department of regulatory infrastructure, international cooperation and protocol at the Federal Service for Environment, Technological and Nuclear Supervision in Russia, said responsibility of safety lies in full with the national regulatory bodies of a country.
"We will extend full cooperation to Bangladesh," he said, adding that the two sides had not decided yet what would happen to the nuclear waste produced at the plant.
Prof Vladimir Artisyuk, deputy director of the International Training Centre of the CICET, said Bangladesh would have to develop a national human resources development plan to prepare its workforce to become successful in installing the plant.
“Education of citizen comes first,” he added.
Artisyuk also said Bangladesh needs to send its engineers and scientists abroad to better understand the complex technical aspects of nuclear plants.
"Nuclear plants should start with the personnel who have the necessary qualifications and authorisations to perform," he said, adding that scientists and engineers must hold university degrees and have training before venturing into the crucial job of setting up a nuclear plant.
Former chairman Naim Chowdhury of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission said Bangladesh should move ahead with the project despite concerns over safety.
Speaking at the concluding session of the seminar, State Minister for Science and Technology Yeafesh Osman said the government was open and transparent about the project.
"Whatever we did we have always let people know about it," he added.