BANGLADESH Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC) was established by a Presidential Order dated February 27, 1973 “to do all acts and things, including research work, necessary for the promotion of the peaceful uses of atomic energy … and for the execution of development projects involving nuclear power stations and the generation of electric power …”
BAEC inherited a large number of highly trained nuclear scientists and engineers who had worked in the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) before independence of Bangladesh. As PAEC built its major establishments including the Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Science and Technology (PINSTECH) and the Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) in former West Pakistan (now Pakistan), the only laboratories worth the name the BAEC got were the Atomic Energy Centre in Dhaka (AECD) and the Bangladesh Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (BINA) at Mymensingh, In addition, it received three nuclear medicine centres at Dhaka, Rajshahi and Chittagong.
Soon after the promulgation of the Presidential Order, the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission was formed with Prof. M. Innas Ali as the chairman, Mohammad Yusuf as Member (Engg.) and Dr. Anwar Hossain as Member (Science). The first task of the Commission was to build research facilities in Bangladesh to realise the objectives of the Presidential Order. The Commission acquired a 259-acre land at Savar and built a well-equipped research facility, known as the Atomic Energy Research Establishment (AERE).
Construction of the AERE was started in 1976 with the author as the first project director. The first phase of the development work was completed with the installation of a TRIGA MARK –II research reactor in 1987 under the guidance of Dr. Anwar Hossain, then chairman of the BAEC. By 2007, the second phase of development was completed and additional facilities like a tandem accelerator, a cobalt-60 irradiator, and a nuclear waste management laboratory were added. The AERE now has several research institutes on nuclear science and technology (INST), food and radiation biology (IFRB), electronics (IE), computer science (ICS), energy (EI) and other disciplines.
The Commission expanded its facilities and services at the Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Ultrasound (INMU) located at BSMMU campus, Dhaka, and other centres at Rajshahi and Chittagong. Twelve new centres of nuclear medicine and ultrasound were opened at public medical colleges and hospitals at divisional and district towns.
Radioactivity Testing and Monitoring Laboratory set up in Chittagong in 1987 has been monitoring imported and exportable foodstuff passing through the port. The Beach Sand Minerals Exploitation Centre (BSMEC) at Cox's Bazar has a pilot plant for processing of raw sand for extraction of heavy minerals.
No laboratory is complete without a corps of trained and dedicated research scientists. The BAEC trained a good number of scientists, engineers and doctors in various fields even though there are allegations that some of the major research facilities, particularly at AERE, are under-utilised. BAEC should encourage research scientists, including students from the public and private universities, to make maximum use of its facilities.
Bangladesh performed several feasibility studies and conducted unsuccessful negotiations with some reactor vendors and financing agencies for the implementation of the Rooppur Nuclear Power Project during the last four decades. It has recently been decided to build two nuclear reactors, each of 1,000 MWe each, at Rooppur in Pabna. BAEC signed several agreements with Russia for technical assistance to build the plant. As per agreements, Russia will supply the reactors and also the nuclear fuel, and train necessary manpower for operation of the plant. Questions have, however, been raised about the competence and preparedness of BAEC to build and operate nuclear power plants as was basically as a research organisation without any experience of construction or operation of any large facility. It is doubtful if any engineer of BAEC ever built or operated even a conventional power plant.
As BAEC had no specific plan to build nuclear power plants during the recent past, it paid little attention to recruitment and training of engineers for implementation of nuclear power projects. Most of the engineers of BAEC were trained for the operation and maintenance of the research reactor at AERE and for maintenance of the various establishments. Consequently, there is now a serious shortage of trained engineers capable of managing a nuclear power project.
All over the world, nuclear power plants are built and operated by electric utilities or separate nuclear power corporations and not by Atomic Energy Commission, except in Pakistan. It has, therefore, been proposed to establish a separate nuclear power corporation for planning, construction and operation of nuclear power plants in Bangladesh as it is expected that more nuclear power plants will be built in our country in view of the serious shortage of indigenous energy resources.
Even if a separate nuclear power corporation is formed, BAEC will be required to play a vital role as the think tank for not only the proposed nuclear power corporation but also for the newly established Bangladesh Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority (BAERA), like in other countries of the world including India. The proposed nuclear power corporation and BAERA will need technical support and specialised services for safe operation of the nuclear power plants and for solution of problems which may arise from time to time. With its research facilities and a corps of trained and dedicated scientists, BAEC should be the most competent organisation to provide such services.
Unless BAEC re-orients its R&D activities to this end, Bangladesh will remain dependent on foreign reactor vendors or consultants for such services. Our aim should be to increase domestic participation in building future nuclear power plants, and BAEC can play a vital role in achieving this goal.
The writer is a former chief engineer of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission and author of “Rooppur & the Power Crisis.”