Building Rooppur

26 September 2018

Saurav Jha looks at the unique role India will have in providing industrial support for Bangladesh’s Rooppur nuclear plant.

IN JULY 2018, CONSTRUCTION WORK commenced on the second VVER unit being built at Bangladesh’s Rooppur nuclear power plant. It was within eight months of work beginning on unit 1, in December 2017. This was just as well, since Rooppur 1 is supposed to begin commercial operations in 2023, and Rooppur 2 is projected in 2024. Alexander Lokshin is first deputy director general for operations management at Rosatom, whose subsidiary Atomstroyexport (ASE) is building these two AES-2006 plants on a turnkey basis for Bangladesh. He said, during a ceremony held to mark the start of unit 2 construction, that, all works at Rooppur construction site are going according to schedule. For Bangladesh, which intends put in place around 7000MWe of nuclear capacity by 2041, in accordance with its 2016 ‘Power System Master Plan’ the future of domestic nuclear energy hinges on the success of Rooppur.

To get it right the first time, Bangladesh has not only chosen to minimise risks by opting for the turnkey route, but also sought India’s industrial support. This is being offered via a tripartite agreement between India, Bangladesh and Russia. Bangladesh’s experience will be watched closely around the world and may provide a template for future collaboration between India and Russia to introduce nuclear power in third countries.

The milestones approach

Bangladesh’s civil nuclear dream began over half a century ago. Rooppur, on the banks of the Padma River 160km northwest of Dhaka, was the site first being identified in 1963. Post independence, Bangladesh retained an interest in nuclear power and it has had a safeguards agreement in force with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) since 1982. However, decades went by with proposals made for small and medium reactors to be built on its soil, but nothing took off.

Instead, Bangladesh became dependent on gas-fired generation to meet baseload requirements that had started to grow rapidly by the first decade of the century. With its gas reserves dwindling and domestic coal scarce, Bangladesh began to seriously look towards bringing nuclear into its power generation portfolio, as baseload, and to support a less carbon-intensive path towards industrialisation. Bangladesh signed an additional protocol with the IAEA in 2001, and decided to adopt the latter’s ‘milestones’ concept, which involves going through 19 infrastructure steps for a ‘newcomer’ country to establish a civil nuclear programme. To this end, Bangladesh established the Nuclear Energy Programme Implementing Organization (NEPIO) in 2010, to monitor progress of the Rooppur project in terms of the milestones approach, and coordinate various stakeholders involved in the country’s nuclear development.

For countries adopting the milestones concept, the IAEA undertakes ‘phased’ Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review Missions (INIRs). Bangladesh’s first INIR took place in 2011, and found it to have ‘made a knowledgeable decision’ on a nuclear energy programme. It paved the way for an integrated work plan (IWP) for the period 2012-15, which in turn provided a framework for the IAEA to extend a technical cooperation programme partially funded through the Peaceful Uses Initiative. The technical cooperation programme, which was aimed at helping Bangladesh develop its nuclear-related soft and hard infrastructure, included support to establish a regulatory framework and in 2012, Bangladesh set up the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority (BAERA) via an act of Parliament. Construction of Rooppur 1&2 only began after they received design and construction licences from BAERA.

The ‘right’ choice

Bangladesh’s ‘knowledgeable decision’ involved selecting a suitable vendor for the site. It intended to set up at least two large reactors, since the Bangladeshi grid was extensive enough by the 2010s to absorb large nuclear capacity.

Bangladesh chose Russia over China for this project even though China has had a nuclear cooperation agreement in place with Dhaka for longer than Russia. China had also made offers to fund Rooppur and in 2008 it had even seemed that Dhaka was keen on it. But that was not to be, and in May 2010 a Bangladesh-Russia intergovernmental agreement (IGA) was signed that provided a legal basis for wide-ranging cooperation across the nuclear fuel-cycle. Another IGA followed in 2011, between the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC) and Rosatom, for construction of two 1000MWe reactors at Rooppur. BAEC’s decision to go ahead with Russia was driven by the latter’s experience in building large light water reactors abroad and the fact that it could offer a design based on an operating reference plant. Russia was also willing to finance the project with relatively low-cost-loans that had a long payback period, and negotiate a fixed price contract for the construction of the two units.

Under the provisions of the 2011 IGA, in January 2013 the governments of Bangladesh and the Russian Federation signed an intergovernmental credit agreement (IGCA) for State export credit worth $500 million to finance preparatory stage construction activities. The included detailed siting activities, engineering surveys and environmental studies, assessment and definition of the related design bases, preparation of documentation packages for the licensing activities, site development works, and construction and erection of the facilities required for construction.

The main BAEC contract with ASE was signed in December 2015 and amounts to $12.65 billion covering detailed design, procurement, construction, commissioning and handover of the two 1208MWe reactors, as well as fuel supply for the first few years. The contract envisaged Russia financing 90% of the cost, at an interest rate capped at 4%, repayable in 28 years with a grace period of ten years. Subsequently, in July 2016, Bangladesh signed another IGCA with Russia extending a credit facility to finance 90% of the project cost, which amounts to $11.385 billion. Bangladesh therefore had to pay only 10% of the general contract value in advance. Under the terms of the agreement, ASE/Rosatom will maintain the plant for the first year of operation before handing it over to BAEC. All spent nuclear fuel will be repatriated to Russia.

Meanwhile, the IAEA continued its close involvement with Rooppur, and a second INIR was undertaken in 2016, after which it extended the IWP to 2019. A PC-based generic VVER- 1200 training simulator facility has been established in Bangladesh with IAEA assistance.

Rooppur utilises the AES-2006 plant designs, which use a version of Rosatom’s VVER-1200/V-392M reactors. Russia’s Novovoronezh II is the reference plant.

The construction of the main structure is expected to be complete within 68 months and the service life of the main equipment is 60 years without any need for replacement. The turbine plant equipment has a service life of 50 years.

Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said while inaugurating construction, “We are strictly following IAEA safety standards and other relevant guidance as well as international good practices.”

Work in progress and future siting

According to the feasibility report the levelised cost of electricity from Rooppur 1 will be less than $0.6/kWh – lower than the average cost of generation in Bangladesh at the moment. The project site has an area of 1062 acres with scope for expansion. It is an earthquake Zone-1 site with peak ground acceleration estimated to be 0.18g for the return period of 2475 years – much lower than the design acceleration for Rooppur 1&2.

Beyond Rooppur, Bangladesh is also looking for a new site, as announced by Prime Minister Hasina in May 2013. She said that “a second nuclear power plant will be constructed in an inland river island in the southern part of Bangladesh”. But future nuclear development in Bangladesh is contingent on Rooppur meeting time and cost projections. For this purpose, consultancy support from India – the only South Asian country to have built Russian VVERs on its soil – will prove useful.

In April 2017 BAEC announced the appointment of India’s Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP) as the consultant for the construction and operation of the Rooppur project. Then in March 2018, a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed in Moscow between Rosatom, Bangladesh’s Ministry of Science and Technology and India’s Department of Atomic Energy on trilateral cooperation for construction at Rooppur. It encompasses technical support to Bangladesh for “work related to RNPP construction and executing transfer and exchange of knowledge, expertise, consultancy advice, sharing of resources and experience on regulatory aspects and training, rendering assistance through Indian personnel and qualified Indian institutions experienced in construction, commissioning and operation of technically demanding industrial facilities”. To begin with, 50 young specialists from Bangladesh will be sent to India for training.

Indian participation in construction and equipment supply also falls under the purview of this MoU and India’s Hindustan Construction Company, in a joint venture with Bangladesh’s MAX, was awarded a $110 million contract by ASE for civil works for the turbine at Rooppur 1.

Perhaps, the biggest learning from India’s Kudankulam project has been that building a first of its kind reactor of foreign origin leads to delays in reviews and regulatory clearances, related to equipment and components. Time overruns at Kudankulam were due to delays in sequential receipt of equipment from Russian suppliers. Bangladesh wants to minimise these issues and Russia is looking to get its act together in the supply chain. In 2017, more than 2500 items of industrial and office equipment were apparently ready for shipment from Russia for Rooppur 1. Between 2017 and 2024, 72 packages of documentation are to be developed and supplied for the execution of major civil construction works. In 2017 apparently 12 were received.

Overall, if Rooppur manages to avoid a repeat of what happened with Kudankulam 1&2, it will not only bode well for Bangladesh’s nuclear prospects, but may also set the stage for further India-Russia collaboration in third countries. It would be a beacon for other nuclear newcomers.  

Author information: Saurav Jha, Author and commentator on energy and security, based in New Delhi 

All images: The Rooppur construction site pictured in July 2018

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