Bangladesh is now one step closer to joining the elite club of nuclear energy-producing countries.
This milestone brings the South Asian nation a step closer to becoming the 33rd country in the world to produce nuclear power. However, challenges and international politics have also marked the journey to this achievement.
US Sanctions and Bangladesh’s Resilience
Bangladesh’s road to nuclear power has been fraught with obstacles, primarily stemming from the United States sanctions on key Russian firms, including the state nuclear agency Rosatom, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
These sanctions affected Dhaka’s ability to make loan repayments in US dollars, leading to delays in the construction of the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant.
In a daring move, Bangladesh decided to make payments exceeding $300 million in Chinese currency in April to circumvent the US sanctions, allowing the project to continue. This demonstrated the country’s determination to achieve energy security and reduce carbon emissions.
The Virtual Handover Ceremony
On October 5, a virtual ceremony took place, attended by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. President Putin reaffirmed the strong ties between the two nations during the event, describing Bangladesh as a “long-term friend and partner.”
Putin also pledged continued support for uranium supply, maintenance, and management of spent fuel.
On October 5, President #Putin and Prime Minister Sheikh #Hasina will take part, via videoconference, in a ceremony to mark the delivery of Russian-made nuclear fuel to Unit 1 of the #Rooppur nuclear power plant in Bangladesh. pic.twitter.com/O9ot5b7x6F
— Embassy of Russia in Bangladesh (@RussEmbDhaka) October 4, 2023
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Hasina expressed her gratitude to President Putin, calling it “a day of pride and joy for the people of Bangladesh.” She emphasized the significance of nuclear fuel transfer as it marked a crucial step toward the plant’s operational readiness.
Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant: A Beacon of Hope for Bangladesh
The Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, primarily funded by Russia with a loan covering 90 percent of its $12.65 billion cost, has been under construction since 2017. Moreover, its construction results from a trilateral agreement between Russia, Bangladesh, and India.
Located in Rooppur, a village on the banks of the Ganges River, 175 kilometers west of the capital Dhaka, the plant boasts two 1,200-megawatt units.
The first unit is set to commence operations in the coming year, with both reactors expected to be fully operational by 2025.
Russia – Bangladesh Goes Nuclear With a Little Help from Our "Indian Friends" – Vladimir Putin
Speaking at the virtual launch of the supply of Russian nuclear fuel to the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, along with Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina, Russia's President said the first… pic.twitter.com/RvYexLxCyq
— RT_India (@RT_India_news) October 5, 2023
Utilizing a VVER-1200 nuclear reactor belonging to the latest 3+ generation, this plant will play a pivotal role in meeting Bangladesh’s surging energy demand, which is growing at approximately 9 percent per year.
A significant portion of Bangladesh’s population still lacks access to electricity, and this nuclear power plant aims to bridge that gap.
Once operational, the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant will make Bangladesh the third South Asian country, after India and Pakistan, to harness nuclear power.
International Politics and Bangladesh’s Nuclear Ambitions
While Bangladesh celebrates its progress in nuclear energy, it faces scrutiny from the United States concerning its political landscape.
The US has urged the Sheikh Hasina government to hold “free, fair, and peaceful” elections, even going as far as reserving the right to deny visas to individuals who might hinder the democratic process in Bangladesh.
“The United States will be able to restrict the issuance of visas for any Bangladeshi individual, believed to be responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh,” said Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a press release statement released in May.
Bangladesh is set to hold its national elections in January 2024.
Furthermore, the US-Bangladesh relations have been strained, with Washington expressing concerns about human rights violations and democratic processes. In response, Dhaka has sought alternatives, including partially repaying the Russian loan for the Rooppur nuclear power plant in Chinese currency.
During his visit to Bangladesh last month, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attributed the payment disruptions to American sanctions on Moscow but assured that the project would continue unabated. He also highlighted Russia’s historical support for Bangladesh during its 1971 war of independence against Pakistan, which the US opposed.
In the midst of these international dynamics, Bangladesh, situated strategically in the Indo-Pacific region, has been engaging openly with both Russia and China, demonstrating its determination to pursue its own path to energy security.
Bangladesh’s receipt of uranium fuel from Russia for its Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant marks a significant achievement in its quest for nuclear energy.
Despite international sanctions and political challenges, the country has persevered and is on the cusp of becoming a nuclear power-producing nation. The plant’s operation promises to bring energy security, economic development, and reduced carbon emissions, underscoring its commitment to a sustainable future.