by Saleem Samad

Energy-starved Bangladesh signed a landmark deal with Russia on Wednesday to finalize arrangements for installing two nuclear power plants in the north of the country.

Russian officials confirmed that the maiden power plant will use third generation nuclear technology and that there would be no fear of a Japan-style tsunami and earthquake at the proposed site. Russia also agreed to take back the spent fuel for reprocessing of the nuclear waste.

The plants at Roopur, on the bank of the Padma River in northern Bangladesh, are free from natural calamities and far from the coast of the Bay of Bengal, should any tidal surge occur.

The two plants, with 1,000 megawatts of capacity each, will produce electricity for the country's ever-growing export industries and massive agriculture economy.

Nearly 40 percent of the population has access to grid electricity, leaving the rest in a state of darkness that dates back to the origin of human society. Renewable energy such as solar power and wind farms contributes less than 1 percent of the demand.

According to the agreement, Moscow will provide all assistance, including construction work, human resource development, and development of the necessary legal framework for Bangladesh's first-ever nuclear power station.

Sergey Kirienko, director general of State Atomic Energy Corp. of Russia (Rosatom), said such types of projects normally take five years to complete, but it will take a few extra years as the feasibility study has not been done.

"We will engage all safety measures in the plant's design to avoid mishaps that took place at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan when a strong earthquake hit the country recently," the director general said.

Yeafesh Osman, state minister for science and information and communication technology who signed the agreement on behalf of Bangladesh, said the cost has not been calculated.

Sources said an estimated cost of the power plant would be between $1.5 and 2 billion. The Russian government will reportedly provide loans to build the plant and a funding agreement will be signed later.

The International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) gave nod to Bangladesh to install nuclear power plants in 2007, along with seven other developing nations, while the United States, Russia, France, South Korea, China and Pakistan offered assistance for developing the infrastructure at Roopur.

Bangladesh was the first among the poor countries to sign the non-proliferation treaty (NPT) in August 1979 and has an operational research nuclear plant at the fringe of the capital.



"Bangladesh and Russia Ink Nuclear Power Deal"