Is Nuclear Energy Essential for Bangladesh?: We Must Go Beyond Deceptions and False Choices

Mowdud Rahman | New Age Bangladesh

If policy is meant to guide any sector into the right direction then Bangladesh’s power sector master plan is surely not fit to serve its intended purpose. The latest power sector policy guideline commonly known as Power Sector Master Plan-2016 clothed in rhetorical claims and unclear goals failed to protect the national interest. The plan insists on importing fuel leaving our natural gas potential unexplored. The emphasis on import, without a doubt, will create a power sector that is dependent on the foreign company. Therefore, it is not a surprise that state owned company such as, Bangladesh Petroleum Exploration and Production company is struggling to secure its existence.

Power sector development does not mean that the government takes initiatives to prevent the frequent load shedding for few mega cities or take the grid line to the remote areas. It is also meant to ensure uninterrupted quality power supply for all at an affordable price. It isn’t necessary to be an expert to name and shame the celebration of 15 thousand megawatt (MW) capacity milestone achievement by fireworks and laser show at Hatirjheel (2016) while the generation units are still struggling to support 10 thousand MW peak demand. Such celebrations are part of government’s deceptive strategy. So far, all the major commitments are proved rhetorical.

In the name of price adjustment, electricity tariff was increased for more than 7 times in last 7 years. Profit mongering rental and quick rental power plants are still on the scene, which was supposed to be in the system for not more than 5 years when it was introduced. It is a profit making mechanism for business-politics evil nexus that they sell in the name of tackling power sector crisis. Even more disturbing is that their actions are protected under an indemnity act. It costed Tk 5000 crore mainly due to purchasing costly power from poorly maintained but excessively charged rental power plant during first 10 month of 2016-17 fiscal year and thus BPDB ranked first in making loss among 48 state owned statutory body (Prothom Alo, 5 June, 2017). Subsidy is necessary to nurture and support a service sector such as power sector, but in Bangladesh, a sheer looting is going on especially in the last decade. There is no dearth of government interest in spending as much as Tk 20 to purchase per unit electricity from private companies, but it is reluctant to invest even lump sum amount to renovate state owned gas fired power plant to increase its efficiency which can produce per unit electricity at lower than Tk. 3.

Coal is obsolete fuel

The share of coal in power generation is still insignificant in Bangladesh, but its future target is horrendous. When rest of the world is in competition to declare their fossil-fuel divestment, coal phase out plans, Bangladesh is looking for the fastest ever coal plant expansion project in the history. According to PSMP– 2016, coal fleet capacity will reach up to 19 thousand MW in total by 2041 which is now only 500 MW. This plan defies the global trend. France, UK, Canada, and Germany have already declared its plan to phase out from coal by 2023, 2025, 2030 and 2050 respectively. China has cancelled 103 coal fired power plants of 120 thousand MW capacities all together which were at various stage of construction in 2017. Chinese government have allocated USD 275 billion budget to invest in 5 years to curb air pollution which is more than double of their defense expenditure. And, to maintain the growing electricity demand, they have decided to invest USD 361 by 2020 in renewable energy sector which in return will not only give electricity but also will create 13 million new jobs.

Nuclear is outdated technology

IN PSMP-2016, 10 per cent of total power generation target has been set to achieve by 2041 from nuclear. To meet that goal Bangladesh needs to construct 7,200 MW capacity of nuclear power plant while Germany have already decided to demolish all of its nuclear power plant by 2022. Nuclear technology is not only unsafe for environment and risky to operate but also puts immense pressure on state exchequer for its costly power generation and radioactive waste disposal. Cost escalation is nothing new for nuclear power. The construction of 75 nuclear reactors was started in the US between 1966 and 1976. In each of these cases, the actual construction cost was found to be 300 percent higher on average than the estimated cost at the beginning (Ramana M V, 2009). Similarly, the construction of the 1,600 MW Flamanville nuclear power plant has already required three times the predicted cost till date and is yet to be completed (Reuters, December 4, 2012). Bangladesh’s Rooppur nuclear power plant is no exception. Even before construction started, the project cost increased from USD 4 billion to USD 12.65 billion within just three years of the time frame (WNISR 2017). As the contract with Russia is not a fixed price contract, but a cost plus one, the vendor retains every right to present a revised budget at any point in future. In case of nuclear power, technology cannot guarantee the safety and it has been proved in Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima. Instead of revisiting its plan, the government has passed an indemnity bill to get legal shield for any ‘unintended’ tragic occurrences.

Instead of giving preference to our own natural gas reserve exploration, PSMP-2016 prescribed for importing 4000 million cubic feet of expensive LNG per day by 2041. No wonder that such expensive energy mix will increase the gas and electricity usage cost in manifold. Along with the suggestion for the usage of coal, nuclear and LNG in the energy mix, PSMP-2016 suggested for gradual increase of the gas price by 19 to 29 percent per year. Similar, increase of the electricity price is suggested as well.

Alternatives are cheap

ALL around the globe renewable energy becomes a crisis solver but in Bangladesh this alternative itself in crisis. Non-hydro renewable energy based power generation capacity is only 1.5 per cent in Bangladesh whereas in neighboring India it is more than 15 per cent. Germany is producing 30 per cent of its total generated electricity from renewables now. It has set a goal to produce at least 55 per cent of its total electricity from renewables by 2035 (Independent, May 5, 2017). Solar and wind power is producing at lower than Tk. 3.5 in India and Indian government is aiming to install 1 lakh 75 thousand MW of solar, wind, biomass and small hydro all together within next 4 years. On the other hand, Bangladesh’s recently formulated PSMP-2016 surprisingly couldn’t find any reason to set more than 15 per cent renewable energy based generation target to achieve by 2041. Moreover, imported power has been presented as substitute of renewable energy. Therefore, if the targeted 9,000 MW of imported electricity is possible to achieve, as mentioned in PSMP-2016, then 15 per cent renewable energy based generation quota is going to be fulfilled without any solar or wind.

In various research a huge wind power potential have already been identified in Bangladesh. However, concern authorities are yet to come up with a detail wind map. The government is unaware and somewhat unwilling to adopt the efficient technology and innovative idea available for energy sector globally. It is still stuck with the land based off-grid solar model while other countries are doing mini-grid, micro-grid and floating solar, as well as building smart grid system. While in other countries solar energy is empowering people with cheap electricity, in Bangladesh it has already fallen into the trap of profiteering business. In between 2010 and 2015 per unit solar electricity cost have been decreased by 58 per cent and by 2025 this cost is projected to be decreased by another 59 percent (IRENA, 2017). However, in Bangladesh government is awarding solar projects to private companies at fixed price of Tk. 12 for per unit electricity for next 20 years (Daily Star, 28 August, 2017).

According to this master plan, once Bangladesh will achieve 100 per cent grid connectivity presumably by 2031, millions of installed solar home system would be disposed. But a recent study of Stanford University shows that 100 percent electricity from renewables would not only be possible for Bangladesh by 2050 but this will also be economical comparing with coal, nuclear and LNG (Jacobson et al. 2017). Therefore, it will not be mistaken to suggest that PSMP-2016 has largely considered research and policies approved by the coal and nuclear power industry than the interest of the people, environment and national economy of Bangladesh.

It is of course not too late. There is still scope for the government abandon its deceptive strategy and design a people and environment friendly power sector plan. Power sector still can be self-reliant and serve the people’s interest. To achieve that goal revising the current policy trend is a must. We need adequate investment in building national capacity and nationally contextualised effective research. To produce cheap and clean electricity we need to focus on utilising our own natural gas reserve and immense potential of renewable energy instead of costly coal, nuclear and LNG. At the same time, policy makers and their collaborators who are misleading the energy sector for profiteering interest must be brought to justice for deceiving the people and misusing the public money in the name of power sector development.

Mowdud Rahman is an engineer and researcher.



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