Indian nuclear experts see the tripartite agreement between India, Russia and Bangladesh to cooperate for the construction of the Rooppur Nuclear power Plant as a start in the right direction and contend that it would strengthen India’s case for entry into Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) as well. Bangladesh nuclear experts have also hailed the agreement but with a caveat that the country should build its own capacity in the field rather than being dependent on the outside help.
The agreement was inked on March 1. The work on the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, the first nuclear plant for Bangladesh, began last year. The MoU for cooperation was signed by Rosatom Deputy Director General Nikolay Spassky, Indian Ambassador to Russia Pankaj Saran and Bangladesh Ambassador to Russia S.M. Saiful Hoque.
“The tripartite agreement will impact Indian Nuclear Industry very positively. Even though India is going to start with providing assistance in manpower training, this would open the door also for subsequent involvement of the industry in other areas like providing equipment and installation etc.,” Dr. Manpreet Sethi, Senior Fellow at Centre for Air Power studies (CAPS) told Nuclear Asia.
Anil Razdan, President of India and Energy Forum and former Power Secretary of Government of India also echoed the same sentiments. “India as such in the region has the longest and the most diversified experience in the field of nuclear power; and for Bangladesh it would be the first venture into the nuclear power. So given India’s relationship with Bangladesh, we already have power-sector relationship, this (the nuclear cooperation) I would say is only natural and beneficial to both the countries,” Razdan said.
The three countries will cooperate, in particular, in the field of personnel training and mentoring, exchange of experience and provision of consulting support
Russia is undertaking the construction of the Rooppur Power Plant and India will be helping in training Bangladesh manpower to operate it. Razdan said the present stage seemed more of “handholding and initiation” of Bangladesh into nuclear power as “these stations are very large and adjusting it into the grid also can be a challenge.” “This is a good beginning in nuclear cooperation and India can share its experience in nuclear power – there are education related issue like health training, how to train your staff to handle a nuclear station and employee safety issues,” Razdan added.
Former Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission and Director of Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) Dr Anil Kakodkar also hailed the agreement saying it will start a “new chapter of regional cooperation in the field of nuclear energy”.
India and Russia have a comfort level working on the Kudakulam Nuclear Power plant and collaboration of Rooppur will take it further. Dr. Sethi feels that the cooperation will also strengthens India’s case for entry into Nuclear NSG. “Non-entry into the NSG will not stop India’s emergence as a nuclear supplier. If anything, participating in such a venture, alongside the Russians to start with, and later individually too, might actually strengthen India’s case for NSG membership. This is a good start and other such opportunities must be found or created,” she adds.
The enthusiasm for the cooperation agreement was resonating in Bangladesh as well. M Ali Zulquarnain, Former Chairman of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission said: “We still have a long way to go with nuclear technology. Our neighbor India is more advanced than us in this regard. Some of the Indian nuclear power plants are built by Russia and the two countries share a good working relation in this regard. Bangladesh can also enter cooperation with the two countries and gain from their experiences.”
A batch of Bangladesh scientists is already undergoing training at Kudankulam. Chairman of Nuclear Engineering Department of the University of Dhaka Shafiqul Islam, sees this as a “fair trade”. He, however, cautions that Bangladesh should not import any engineering equipment from India, “as it country does not have any prior experience exporting nuclear plant machinery.” “Bangladesh should only use Russian equipment as they are tested worldwide and trusted, whereas India’s equipment are not peer tested yet. If Bangladesh imports from India, it can turn out to be a safety issue and it will be questioned,” Islam added.
Dr. Ishtiaque Maoyeen Syed, General Secretary of Bangladesh Physics Society also exhorts Bangladesh to focus on capacity building while taking help from Russia and India initially. “Russia and India both are experienced in this area. We have to take assistance from experienced countries and meanwhile we should continue to develop our own manpower,” Professor Sayeed weighed. He even suggested to set up a time frame by when Bangladesh develops its capability to such a level that it can operate the nuclear power plant on its own.
Professor Syed sees this development of indigenous capability as a means to bring down costs of setting up nuclear power plants. “India has already brought down costs for setting up nuclear power plants as they are now making some equipment at home. We have to reach that level at the earliest,” he added.
Professor A A Mannan from Department of Physics of Jahangirnagar University in Bangladesh also makes case for developing indigenous capability. “Cooperation is good. We can work together until we overcome our limitations. Cooperation cannot run for a long time and the sooner we take control of the nuclear power plant, cheaper it will be. Sustainable development cannot be achieved without building indigenous capability,” Professor Mannan added.