The first nuclear fuel has been delivered to the construction site of the Rooppur NPP in Bangladesh, representing the transition of the plant to the formal status of a nuclear facility. The ceremony marking the event was attended by the Russian President Vladimir Putin, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (Rafael Mariano Grossi) by video link. Present at the event were Rosatom Director General Alexey Likhachev, and the Bangladesh Minister of Science & Technology Yafesh Osman and other official guests.

The Rooppur plant is being built by Rosatom on the eastern bank of the Ganges River in Bangladesh’s Pabna district, about 160 km northwest of Dhaka. It will comprise two VVER-1200 reactors. In November 2011, Russia and Bangladesh signed an inter-governmental agreement on cooperation in the construction of the NPP and in mid-December 2015, a general contract was signed. Construction began in 2021. Construction of the unit 1 began in November 2017 and unit 2 in July 2018. The plant’s design life is 60 years with the possibility of extending its operating life for another 20 years.

All the plant's fuel is being provided by Rosatom under a contract finalised in August 2019, and the used fuel will be returned to Russia for processing. The fuel was produced in Russia at the Novosibirsk Chemical Concentrates Plant (NCCP – part of Rosatom) and the manufacture and transportation of the fuel was supervised by the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority (BAERA). One load of nuclear fuel for a VVER-1200 reactor comprises 163 fuel assemblies.

To transport the fuel assemblies from the manufacturing plant to the NPP, special transport containers were used. The consignment of fuel arrived Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka from Russia using a special air cargo and it was moved to the plant site by road under heavy security the next day.

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At the ceremony, Prime Minister Hasina and President Putin gave symbolic permission to deliver nuclear fuel to the construction site, while Likhachev handed over to Science & Technology Minister Osman, a certificate confirming the delivery of fuel in compliance with all standards and safety requirements. Workers lined the roads along the route for the arrival of the fuel.

Shaikh Hasina, in her video address, said the goal is to generate power from the first unit of the plant in 2024 and from the second unit in 2025. She said that her government has enacted the “Bangladesh Atomic Energy Regulatory Act” and established an independent Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority. She added that the Nuclear Power Plant Company Bangladesh Limited (NPCBL) has been formed to manage the power plant.

In his address, via weblink, Grossi said it was an "important, historic" and "auspicious" occasion. He said that the IAEA had been, and would be, with the country "every step of the way". He added that the IAEA understood the "indispensable role nuclear plays in development".

In his speech, President Putin noted the close ties between the two countries, and said that once at full capacity the plant would supply about 10% of Bangladesh's energy needs while also helping to cut carbon dioxide emissions. He said Russia is not just building a station. “We will provide assistance to our Bangladeshi partners throughout the entire life cycle of the nuclear project, including obligations for the long-term supply of reactor fuel, maintenance of the nuclear power plant, as well as for the management of used nuclear material."

NPP Project Director and Managing Director of the NPCBL Md Shawkat Akbar presented an introduction to the plant and Science & Technology Minister Osman delivered a welcome address. “We have been waiting for this special moment for a long time. This is a solemn event not only for the residents of Pabna district, but also for the entire country,” he said. Rosatom’s Likhachev noted: “Today is a new stage in the development of Russian-Bangladeshi relations. With the delivery of the first nuclear fuel, the Rooppur NPP becomes a nuclear facility, and the People's Republic of Bangladesh receives the status of a country with peaceful nuclear technologies.”

World Nuclear Association Director General Sama Bilbao y León, who was also at the ceremony, said: "The significance of this moment extends beyond Bangladesh, with the global nuclear community committed to accelerating new build projects the Rooppur power plant is a powerful symbol of this shared commitment … the completion of this project in under 10 years – for a newcomer country – is a testament of international collaboration and demonstrates that we can build nuclear reactors efficiently."

Construction of the NPP is proceeding on schedule, with all components delivered to the site from Russia by sea, and then along the Padma River through the river port. At the peak of construction in 2021, more than 30,000 employees worked at the site. Of these, 6,000 came from abroad, with the rest being local residents. Currently, more than 23,000 people are working on the project. Also, more than 60 local companies are involved in the construction project.

In 2021, an educational and training centre was opened at the Rooppur construction site. It is designed for training operating personnel for the plant. Russian experts have developed all educational and methodological programmes. In total, it is planned to train more than 50 groups of Bengalis. Likhachev told reporters that 1,500 specialists will be trained in out of the 2,000 required to operate the plant. “The guys study in Russia, at MEPhI [Moscow Engineering & Physics Institute] and other universities, and undergo internships at the Novovoronezh NPP. There, units 5 & 6 are exact replicas of those being built at the Rooppur station. Then at the Bangladesh training specialists learn to work in conditions as close as possible to real ones. “We have prepared a core of specialists from Bangladesh, but, of course, for the first five years our specialists will work beside them. This is necessary, and our Bengali partners understand this,” he noted.

In the run up to the fuel acceptance ceremony, Rosatom organised video screenings and lecture sessions in 20 schools of Ishwardi to increase awareness about nuclear energy. More than 1,000 school students participated in these sessions. The engineering division of Rosatom also organised a two-week Science Olympiad for school, college, and university students of the region with support from MEPhI and in co-operation with the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission. More than 1,200 students participated from 32 local schools in the junior group and several local universities in the senior group.

Image: The first batch of nuclear fuel arrives at the Rooppur nuclear power plant construction site in Bangladesh (courtesy of Rosatom)