With the arrival of first reactor pressure vessel and steam generator from Russia, Bangladesh is now taken another step towards having its first operational nuclear reactor by 2024. For a rapidly developing economy like Bangladesh, easy accessibility of cheap energy sources are of paramount importance. As such, the importance of Rooppur nuclear power plant (RNPP) and subsequent nuclear energy projects as engines of economic growth in coming decades cannot be overstated and precisely why Bangladesh government has accorded such high priority to this project.
However, there are a few voices who have aired their concerns, since the inception of the RNPP project, about the safety of nuclear power plants. The discussion on the safety of nuclear power plants broadly focuses on radiation leak due to accidental breach caused by natural or man-made catastrophic events such as earthquakes, tsunami, floods, terror attack etc., environmental impact of nuclear power plants and radioactive waste management.
Dr. M. Aminul Islam, former Vice-Chancellor of Shahjalal University of Science and Technology, a Nuclear Physicist and President of Bangladesh Medical Physics Association says, “A coal powered plant of 1000 MWe capacity consumes 3 million tons of coal every year and produces 7 million tons of gaseous waste and 300000 tons of solid waste in the same period. In comparison, a nuclear power plant of the same capacity consumes 27 tons of UO2 per year and produces 0.7 tons of high level radioactive waste in the same period. It is very clear that nuclear power is not only much more efficient but also a safer alternative of energy source for the environment.”
Coming to the concerns related to prevention or containment of toxic materials in the event of a catastrophic event, the nuclear power plants of current generation are equipped with an array of active and passive safety measures to ensure proper containment of radioactive material.
RNPP is equipped with VVER-1200 reactors of the 3+ generation. These innovative units with improved technical and economic characteristics ensure absolute operational safety and fully comply with the IAEA post-Fukushima safety standards. Presently, VVER-1200 is the most powerful reactor in Russia with three main advantages: high productivity, long service life and safety. The main feature of the VVER-1200 project is a unique combination of active and passive safety systems that provide maximum resilience to external and internal impacts, including tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes and air crashes.
Passive safety systems are able to function even under conditions of complete power failure ensuring complete safety even without the contribution of the active safety systems or (human) operational intervention. For example, the Passive Heat Removal System (PHRS) provides long-term heat removal from the reactor core in case of all the power sources' shutdown.
According to the safety criterion of NPPs operation, Russia ranks first in the world as the greatest attention is paid in the projects to safety technologies. The high degree of nuclear safety at Russian NPPs is ensured by numerous factors. The main factor is the reactor self-protection mechanisms, multiple safety barriers, and multilevel redundancy of safety systems as well as application of active and passive safety systems. Active safety systems are able to operate when at least one of the alternative sources of power is available. Passive systems can operate independently, without power supply and without human intervention. Besides, the safety culture is present at all lifetime cycle phases: from sitting up to the decommissioning phase.
The safety of Russian projects has been verified not only by time, but also by natural disasters. In 1988, Armenian NPP survived the magnitude 7 earthquake that destroyed the town of Spitak. Bulgarian Kozloduy NPP, built by Soviet specialists withstood a series of earthquakes with an epicenter in Romania, not far from the station.
In the event of a critical failure leading to core damage, the VVER-1200 reactors are equipped with a molten core catcher. Core catcher, a next generation safety device, is designed to localise and cool the molten core material in case of an accident and confine it within the protective shell of the reactor to prevent radioactive emissions into the external environment. The core catcher has also improved seismic resistance, hydro-dynamic and shock strength, as well as flood protection and simplified installation and assembly technology.
On Bangladesh’s decision to enter the nuclear energy sector, Dr. Aminul adds “Nuclear power is safe, reliable, cost effective and environment friendly. Bangladesh is right in her decision of entering the nuclear world and in her choice of VVER-1200 pressurized water reactor of 3rd+ generation.”
Aroup Raton Shahais a Researcher and Lecturer at Cox’s Bazar International University