Some interesting points and I must say, a bold idea presented.
Urgency of nuclear power in Bangladesh
Following the statement of G-7 countries in April, favouring nuclear power electricity as one of the three options for energy diversification, energy efficiency, and energy security, and to address climate change (nuclear power stations do not emit greenhouse gases, especially C02), there has been a softening of attitude towards nuclear power both in the developed and the developing countries. Recently, a number of articles supporting nuclear power in Bangladesh have appeared in the press.
This is not unexpected, because the country is facing an acute power crisis, and existing conventional resources (gas and coal) will not be able to meet the growing demands for electricity. Let me be more specific.
At present, we have an estimated shortage of 1500-2000 MW in the national grid, and we are trying hard not only to meet the shortage in 2-3 years but also to achieve the target of the projected demand based on Base Case GDP. The historical GDP growth from 1994-2004 was a little over 5%, while the projected growth from 2005-2025 are 5.2%, 8% and 4.5% in Base Case, High Case and Low Case respectively.
Power System Master Plan (PSMP) shows the Base, High and Low Case net power generation and peak load forecasts, as given in Table 1.
Using the Base Case scenario, the power sector will consume two-thirds (9.6 tcf) of the remaining 15 tcf of proven and probable gas reserves by 2025, unless coal takes over the generation seriously from 2010. According to the Draft National Energy Policy (prepared by UNDP in March, 2006) for a limited Gas-Early Coal alternative, 1500 MW of new coal-fired power will have to be generated by 2015, and 10,000MW (over half the total additions) by 2026.
It may be mentioned that, according to the PSMP, 2006, 4000 MW of coal fired stations could be operated by domestic coal and for the remaining 6000 MW, coal has to be imported for their projected power generation upto 2025.
According to this generation mix over the twenty-year planning period (upto 2025), the limited Gas-Early Coal Case substitutes 124 million tons of coal for 2.3 tcf of gas. With the present controversy about the use of coal for power production, it is highly unlikely that the target of coal-fired generation, even as estimated by Power System Master Plan, will be achieved.
It has to be remembered that for the purpose of planning, only recoverable coal reserve and their actual recovery has to be considered, not to speak of required imported coal. Just to give an example, Barapukuria has a coal reserve of 300-450 million tons, but the recoverable reserve (estimated so far) is only 64 million tons (44.8 MTOE). The actual recovery at present is 2400 tons/day, which is expected to rise to 2700 tons soon and, ultimately, to 3300 tons/day (in two phases), which can support a power station of 300 MW only.
It is, therefore, essential that, not only for energy security but also to meet our projected power requirements, alternative sources for producing electricity have to be considered. Keeping fuel cost and environmental considerations in mind, we should not consider any form of liquid fuel for power generation.
This leaves us with renewable energy and nuclear power as the only alternatives. As for renewable energy, the power generated could be utilized locally in remote non-grid areas, and even in grid areas where distribution lines could not be reached to the consumer for various reasons. Although this will serve a large enough local population, the amount is too marginal to be considered for the national grid.
Thus, the earlier nuclear power is introduced the better. Nuclear power is environment friendly, there is no gaseous pollution, liquid waste is limited, and the problem of solid waste disposal is solvable (in fact, it becomes very much easier if the spent fuel is sent back to the supplying country).
The issues of safety and safeguards have already been taken in hand by the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC), with the help of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). With the present known technology, it will take 6-7 years to build a nuclear power station after considering all issues (esp. site licensing, which needs the latest site survey report).
With the present preparations of BAEC and the government, and additional urgent efforts, the first pouring of the concrete for a nuclear power station could only be made by the end of December, 2008 or early 2009, which means that nuclear power will not be available to the grid before 2014 at the earliest.
After the first nuclear power station is built, the following ones could be in stream in regular succession. There is, therefore, a need for a long-term plan and program for nuclear power at least upto 2030. It may be mentioned that China plans to build nuclear power stations totalling 20000 MW by 2020. Iran's program is also the same, although its first nuclear power station is yet to be completed (information upto January).
According to an IAEA report in 2006, with over 3000 MW nuclear power from 15 power reactors running, India's goal is to increase nuclear capacity by a factor of 10 by 2022, and a factor of 90 (?) by 2052. No wonder they are in a hurry to import fuel from the US.
The key issues for successful implementation of a nuclear power program are economics, safety and fuel. Cost estimates from seven recent studies by different countries and expert groups show that levelised cost of power generation form nuclear source is comparable to those from gas and coal. Figure 1 shows the cost range as given in an IAEA report of 2006.
Fig 1. The ranges of levelised costs associated with new construction, as estimated in seven recent studies for electricity generating technologies in different countries.
The cost of nuclear generation is low because the high investment cost is made up by low fuel cost over a long period. That is why a nuclear power plant is used as a base load station. Rooppur was selected as the site of the first nuclear station, as it is located at the western end of the East-West interconnector, to minimize transmission loss.
In this connection, it may be mentioned that the lifetime of a nuclear power station (the nuclear portion) is more than 50 years, thus improving the generation cost. If the lifetime estimate is extended to 70 years (as has been the case in the award of a licence for a nuclear station in USA recently), then even the decommissioning cost can be included in calculating the generation cost.
The cost of nuclear power generation given in the PSMP (2006) appears exaggerated, probably due to estimated high equipment and construction cost, O&M cost, plus lower lifetime assumed for nuclear plant. The initial funding of the first nuclear power station should maximise local participation (e.g. civil works), which could be met from the government's own exchequer within the framework of a turn-key project.
For the rest, some investment by the project awardee and soft long-term loan should be sought. Preference should be given to tested (off-the-shelf) designs to save construction time and, thus, reduce interest during construction. As for safety, in 11991 reactor-years of operation, there was only one accident with major off-site consequences (Chernobyl, 1986).
It is known that the safety design for the Chernobyl power station was defective. Major changes have now been made in the safety design of power reactors. The "safety culture" is constantly improving and, with 441 nuclear power reactors totaling 368264 MW operating and producing 2626 TW-h of electricity, there has been no nuclear power accident since Chernobyl (IAEA report, 2006).
It is the fuel cost and availability that need careful planning. The cost of primary fuel, which had been low and stable for the previous decade and a half, is climbing. Uranium production has been well below consumption for about 15 years, and the current price reflects the growing perception that secondary sources (e.g. reprocessed spent fuel, enriched uranium etc.) are also getting exhausted.
Fortunately, there are plenty of uranium and thorium (fertile fuel) reserves in the world, reprocessing and enrichment plants (upto power reactor grade fuel) are increasing and there are prospects of fuel from pure fast-reactor fuel cycle with recycling. These will meet the fuel requirements for the foreseeable and distant future (as given in Table-2).
Bangladesh is committed to peaceful uses of atomic energy, and has made excellent progress in the application of atomic science and technology in the fields of medicine, agriculture, industry, isotope hydrology, and radiation safety and monitoring.
A 3MW(t) research reactor is running satisfactorily since 1986, producing some radioisotopes for medical and other uses and training persons in reactor operation and safety, thanks to the dedicated activities of nuclear scientists and engineers in BAEC. The Institute of Nuclear Agriculture (INA) was originally established by BAEC and is now running well in the Agriculture Ministry. The country has, however not been able to make any headway in the nuclear power program, although efforts started from the early sixties.
The history of missed opportunities in nuclear power production is really unfortunate (an article on this by the author was published in the Monthly Guardian in October, 2003). Meanwhile, BAEC has strengthened its physical and manpower infrastructure and increased its collaboration with IAEA, RCA (Regional Cooperation for Asia), and some countries.
The Nuclear Safety and Radiation Control Act is also in force, and the country is now ready to forge ahead in nuclear power. Political will is also there, with the acquired land measuring about 250 acres and some incomplete residential buildings in a separate 12-acre land in Rooppur as physical testimony of the will.
What is required is bold and fast action while national and international opinion is favourable. The spin-off benefits of the nuclear option are also enormous, and the process of its implementation will help development of various other technologies and create direct and indirect employment due to a wide range of local commercial and economic activities. The displaced persons of Rooppur are eagerly awaiting the result of their voluntary and willing sacrifice since 1964.
Dr. Anwar Hossain is former chairman of BAEC.