Bangladesh and Russia are set to finalise a deal within a couple of months to construct the Rooppur nuclear power plant using two VVER-1200 nuclear reactors that have a 60-year lifespan, making the project cost effective.
The VVER-1200 (Water-Water Energetic Reactor or WWER with 1,200MW capacity) is the “third generation plus” reactor. Russia's Novovoronezh Nuclear Power Plant II is set to become the first plant to go into operations with VVER-1200 this year. Bangladesh looks at the Novovoronezh plant as the model for Rooppur, says Maksim V Elchishchev—who is in charge of Bangladesh project from Russia.
“In our feasibility study, we have found Rooppur to be a suitable site for a nuclear power project,” said Maksim, vice-president of NIAEP (a sister concern of Russian state-owned nuclear power company Rosatom).
With 300 people, the NIAEP has been conducting the feasibility study and preparing project design from mid-2013. It completed and submitted the study in June and it will submit the project design to the government this month.
“We did not find any factor against building the nuclear power plant at Rooppur,” he said, while talking to the press in the capital yesterday. Russian Ambassador Alexander Nikolaev was present on the occasion.
Drawing attention to earthquake risks, he said, “We are working further on ground stabilisation and compaction. Some geological issues need to be addressed in the light of the study. This is required for any project site.”
The study took into consideration water supply (essential for the reactors' cooling), floods as well as how to transport the heavy machinery, like a nuclear reactor, to the site.
The first unit is scheduled to begin operation from 2022. The plant will require around 1,000 people to run. Russia will provide the human resource training under a separate agreement with the government.
While independent experts estimate the project would cost more than $10 billion, more than three times the initial estimate of the government, Maksim declined to comment on the project's cost. “Since we are now negotiating the finances, I cannot comment on the project cost,” he said.
He noted that the cost of such a large project could not be $2-3 billion. “This is going to be economically effective as this plant will last for 60 years. In addition, the fuel cost would be cheaper [than other types of fuels],” he said.
“This will have much higher capital investment than that of a coal-fired or gas-fired power plant. But as its lifespan is 60 years, power from this plant will be cheaper than that of coal or gas plants,” said Maksim, who has a doctorate degree in economics.
He claimed that the VVER technology was currently the world's safest reactor technology. Russia has learnt a lot from its own Chernobyl disaster and has added new safety measures after the Japan's 2011 Fukushima nuclear plant disaster.
“The VVER-1200 will give you 72 hours of automatic protection time in case of a disaster,” he said.
The VVER has a core catcher, a passive system for heat removal from the reactor and a passive system for heat removal from the steam generator.
The core catcher is the top safety measure which is installed under the reactor pressure vessel. It is a cone-shaped metal structure weighing more than 800 tonnes. In case of an accident, it traps the melted fuel and prevents it from leaking onto the concrete footing of the reactor building. This trap also prevents radioactivity from spreading beyond the containment and into the environment.
“The VVER is a proven technology being used in different countries. It has a record of 1,400 reactor years of safe operation,” he pointed out.
As per the agreement framework, Russia will provide the fuel and take back the spent fuel to Russia where it is discarded underground to avoid contamination.
Maksim Elchishchev noted that Russia will provide 90 percent of the project cost as soft loan. The repayment period of this loan is still being negotiated.
The NIAEP, which is currently working on 39 projects in Russia and other countries, is expected to undertake the project construction for Rosatom.
Bangladesh and Russia began cooperation in the nuclear fields from May 2010, after which both nations signed a series of agreements. The present study and designing are being carried out under a half a billion dollar Russian loan.