This story is part of an ongoing Forum on Energy series on nuclear energy in emerging markets across the globe. See more entries here.
Bangladesh, a low-lying country tucked under the crook of India’s Eastern arm, is among the most densely populated and populous countries in the world. The country found independence from Pakistan in 1971 and in 1991 experienced its first democratic elections after 20 years of political unrest. In the years since then, Bangladesh has achieved many economic development goals such as universal primary education and health benchmarks, but it still struggles with governance challenges such as political unrest and corruption.
It is against this backdrop of a relatively new country with a steadily improving economy that Bangladesh’s energy demand is increasing far more quickly than its income is growing. Bangladesh has consistently faced difficulty meeting its rapid increase in electricity demand. Recent data show the nation has a derated capacity (meaning that its power plants are run at less than full output in order to prolong their lifespan) of around 5500 Megawatt (MW) on an installed rating of more than 6000 MW, but only around 4000 MW is actually available. In practice, only about half the country’s population has access to electricity—albeit intermittent.
In 2011, Bangladesh produced approximately 44 billion kWh, 40 billion kWh of which was derived from natural gas. Approximately 88 percent of the energy used for power generation comes from natural gas, followed by 6 percent from oil, 4 percent from coal and 2 percent from hydro power.
Bangladesh first considered nuclear energy in 1961. While gas fields are available elsewhere in the country, the western zone had no indigenous forms of electricity, nor was there an interconnector between east and west grids at the time. In 1963, the government selected the Ruppur site in the country’s Pabna district—approximately 200 kilometers north of Dhaka—as the future home of its civil nuclear energy program.
While negotiations to build a Belgian-designed reactor progressed significantly, plans were put aside after the war for independence. The demand and supply situation of the power system changed significantly in Bangladesh soon after independence, as many industries became inoperative, partly due to the damages caused by the war of independence and partly due to the departure of the Pakistani industrialists. Consequently, the demand for power dropped considerably. In 1980, less than a decade after gaining its independence from Pakistan, the government announced approval of a 125 MWe nuclear plan, but problems with financing and questions over whether a larger plant would be more cost-efficient prevented construction. However, that same year the U.S. company General Atomics began the installation of a Triga 3 MW research reactor that has been in operation since 1986.
Two decades later, in 1999, Bangladesh once again was placing a heavy emphasis on a future national energy policy that included nuclear; the country signed a Nuclear Power Action Plan with China in 2005. In 2007, Bangladesh’s Atomic Energy Commission proposed a planned two 500 MWe reactors at the Ruppur site, and by 2008 the country was again looking to China as a nuclear partner under its 2005 nuclear cooperation agreement, and China offered funding. The International Atomic Energy Agency would then grant its approval of a Technical Assistance Project for a Ruppur Nuclear Power Plant, with visions of an 1100 MWe plant.
While Russia, China and South Korea have all offered Bangladesh financial and technical assistance, so far only Russia’s formal proposal for the construction of a nuclear plant has been accepted. Under the 2009 agreement, Russia would construct a 1000 MWe Ruppur plant for approximately $2 billion. The plan was later expanded to two plants.
In 2010, Bangladesh and Russia signed an intergovernmental agreement for nuclear cooperation. Subsequent agreements covered related issues such as fuel supply and the return of used fuel to Russia. The latest plans call for two AES-92 1000 MWe reactors, the first to begin construction in 2015 and followed by the second in 2020 and begin operation in 2025.
In May of this year, during a visit to Tokyo, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signed a joint statement committing Japan to extend up to 600 billion yen in loans to Bangladesh for energy infrastructure and other projects. The two countries also agreed to launch a meeting of experts to discuss lessons learned from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. The following month, the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission approached the Japan Atomic Energy Agency about the possibility of building a 2000 MWe reactor in the south of country. This would double Bangladesh’s current nuclear MWe energy goal.