Russian reactors for Bangladesh

Print edition : January 05, 2018

The first pour of concrete for the foundation of the first of two VVER-1200 reactors at Rooppur on November 30, 2017. The reactors have an installed capacity of 1,200 MWe each. Photo: Courtesy Rosatom

IN what could be a significant development for both Russia and India, two VVER-1200 reactors of Russian design will be built near Rooppur in Bangladesh. The first pour of concrete for the foundation of the first unit took place on November 30, 2017, at Ishwardi village, near Rooppur, about 160 km from Dhaka. The first pour signals the start of the main construction phase. The reactors have an installed capacity of 1,200 MWe each. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Director General of Rosatom State Atomic Energy Corporation Alexy Likachev attended the event.

“With the first pour of the concrete for the Rooppur Nuclear Power Project [RNPP] begins the realisation of a dream. We enter the nuclear world, which is a matter of great pride and honour for us as a nation. We are grateful to Russia and the Russian people for this,” Sheikh Hasina said.

Likachev said: “Similar plants with the innovative VVER-1200 are already operational in Russia. We will pay as much attention and care to RNPP in Bangladesh as we do in Russia.”

Atomstroyexport (ASE), which forms part of the engineering division of Rosatom, will build the reactors at Rooppur. All the reactor components, including the reactor vessels, turbines and steam generators, will be shipped to Rooppur from Russia. The reactors will use enriched uranium as fuel, and light water as both coolant and moderator. The spent fuel from the two reactors will be sent back to Russia.

The construction of these two units means new orders for Russian companies and jobs in Russia. About 12,000 Russian specialists, including designers, engineers, equipment-fabricators and electricity engineers, will be involved in the construction. At present, the foreign order portfolio of Rosatom includes building 34 nuclear power reactors in 13 countries, including Bangladesh, Belarus, China, Egypt, Finland, Hungary, Iran and India.

Indian connection

Bangladeshi engineers who will be appointed as operators of the VVER-1200 reactors at Rooppur will be trained at Kudankulam in Tamil Nadu, where two VVER-1000 reactors are functional and two more are under construction. Two more VVER-1000 units, fifth and sixth, will come up at Kudankulam. While Russia supplied all the components for its reactors at Kudankulam, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited built them. Informed sources said that several Indian companies, which took part in the construction of the Kudankulam reactors, might like to bid for the Rooppur reactors when tenders are floated.

Shah Nawaz Ahmed, senior Adviser (India, Middle East and South East Asia), World Nuclear Association, has been quoted as saying: “Bangladesh is cooperating with Russia to build two 1,200 MWe VVER units similar to the Kudankulam plant. This has big implications for Bangladesh as it will get a source of power which is clean and has a 24/7 base load. For India, [the Russian] cooperation with Bangladesh is a positive step. Many Indian firms involved in the construction of the Kudankulam plant, we are hopeful, will be able to supply material for construction [at Rooppur].”

The two VVER-1200 units are being built under the framework of an inter-government agreement signed on November 2, 2011, between Bangladesh and Russia. The RNPP will cost about $12.65 billion. The Bangladesh Atomic Energy Corporation and the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Regulatory Board will supervise each stage of the construction.

The VVER-1200 units have layers of features called defence-in-depth/redundancy, which are a unique combination of active and passive safety systems. The Bangladesh media have quoted Alexander Khazin, senior vice president for international projects of the ASE group of companies, as saying that the passive safety systems will function even when power supply fails totally. They will provide safety without the functioning of the active systems or the operator’s intervention. For instance, the passive heat removal system will cool the fuel core if all other power supply sources fail. There is a “core-catcher” [a tank with a huge pool of water] at the bottom of the reactor vault and in case a of loss-of-coolant accident the molten core will fall into the core-catcher. The core-catcher will cool the molten fuel and ward off radioactive leakage into the environment, Khazin has been quoted as saying. The VVER-1200 units will have a double containment dome to prevent radiation from leaking into the atmosphere in case of an accident. The reactor buildings can withstand tornadoes, cyclones and missile attacks.

Lessons from the Fukushima accident in Japan in 2011 have been taken into consideration in designing the VVER-1200 units. They have been designed in accordance with Russian and European regulatory requirements, and International Atomic Energy Agency standards.

T.S. Subramanian

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