At present, approximately, 95% of the people of Bangladesh have access to electricity. Estimation shows that the national demand of electricity would be 40 thousand MW by 2030, and 60 thousand MW by 2041 in the country. As of now, Bangladesh relies mostly on natural gas and coal as the source to generate the lion's share of its electricity. But it is evident that natural gas and coal are limited resources and we cannot build alternative energy sources in a day.
Keeping all the issues in mind, building nuclear power plant is being seen as one of the most sustainable, cost effective and environmental friendly source of electricity generation all over the world now. World Nuclear Industry Status Report 2020 shows that, “as of July 2020, 31 countries operated 408 nuclear reactors and more 52 reactors were under construction. There 17 countries are currently building nuclear power plants, one more than in mid-2019. As of July 1, 2020, total capacity under construction in the world increased by 8.9 GW to 53.5 GW.”
In 2011, Bangladesh signed an inter-governmental agreement with Russia’s Nuclear Energy Corporation (ROSATOM) to construct two nuclear power reactors, each equipped with a capacity of 1200 MW, in Ishwardi, Pabna. The move was significant as it marked Bangladesh’s foray into nuclear power to boost economic growth and meet its consumer and industry demands. The Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant being built by Rosatom is now closer to being operational.
Despite the initial enthusiasm, there exists a general sentiment of apprehension amongst people about Bangladesh’s ability to take-on a technically complex nuclear power program, with many citing the country’s lack of prior experience with nuclear power plants (NPPs) as a major roadblock. But Bangladesh, in fact, has a robust and comprehensive regulatory structure to ensure safe nuclear energy production. Current legislative and regulatory framework of Bangladesh guarantees proper consideration for health, safety, security and protection of people and environment while using nuclear materials and facility. Bangladesh is also party to major international instruments on nuclear security, disarmament and non-proliferation.
As a country embarking on nuclear power generation for the very first time, there will doubtlessly be road bumps along the way but Bangladesh has shown initial intent in terms of setting up a stringent legal and regulatory framework along with a robust institutional setting that would lead Bangladesh to go a long way in safely transiting into clean nuclear energy system.
Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC) is the prime agency to deal with assessment of safety and security of nuclear energy for the country. Established in 1973 by a presidential order, the scientific research organization’s primary goal is to promote the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. BAEC’s chief objective is to facilitate the construction of NPPs for solving the country’s chronic power crisis and it is also the sole beneficiary owner of NPPs. BAEC also works as the owner organization of the Nuclear Power Company of Bangladesh Ltd. (NPCBL), formed in 2015, as well as a technical support organization (TSO).
NPCBL holds the prime responsibility for ensuring nuclear and radiation safety during all stages of the plant (cradle-to-grave) according to the IAEA safety guidelines. NPCBL looks over the safe operation and maintenance of NPPs ensuring that national and international obligations regarding implementation of NPP projects are fulfilled at all times.
The existing regulatory infrastructure for nuclear power of Bangladesh consist of the Nuclear Safety and Radiation Control (NSRC) Act, 1993 (now replaced by Bangladesh Atomic Energy Authority Act (BAEA), 2012), NSRC Rules 1997 and the Nuclear Power Plant Act 2015.
Both BAEA-2012 and NSRC-97 mandate a requirement of a license for any person desiring to engage in any practice using radioactive materials or an ionizing radiation source. The NSRC Rule 1997, Chapter VIII provides the responsibility of licensee for emergency preparedness and response. Every licensee shall establish an emergency response plan to deal with every foreseeable emergency. BAEA, 2012 is the comprehensive law regarding safety and management of nuclear plant and radioactive waste. The Act established an independent regulatory authority, Bangladesh Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority (BAERA) in 2013, responsible for regulating and formulating all safety rules regarding the use of nuclear energy which not only serve to protect lives and property, they also help Bangladesh meeting its international obligations with regards to nuclear energy.
BAERA enumerates provisions for making license, authorization, import and export of nuclear material, waste safety, transport safety of radioactive material, compensation in case of accident, radiation protection and emergency preparedness and response. Hence, BAERA oversees the safety aspects of the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant. BAERA gave the site license, design and construction license of the plant in 2017. On the other hand Nuclear Power Plant Act 2015 establishes the composition, duties and responsibilities of the Nuclear Power Company (NPCBL). It authorizes the company for managing RNPP as well as other nuclear power plants for the country so far.
Bangladesh also recognizes the pivotal role of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in enhancing global nuclear safety, security and safeguards as well as in facilitating nuclear techniques and energy for peaceful purposes. The concerned legislative bodies in Bangladesh is determined to afford a civil liability to nuclear-related harm and pay to the casualties of a nuclear disaster episode through household.
To emphasize that overall nuclear safety and security is a shared responsibility of all nations, Bangladesh is party to the major international legal instruments for safe, secure and peaceful uses of nuclear energy including the Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials, Convention on Assistance in the Case of a Nuclear Accident or Radiological Emergency, Convention on Nuclear Safety and Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
The country has done well so far in terms of setting in place proper regulatory and legal structure for safe nuclear energy production. For the Rooppur NPP to work smoothly, it is imperative that the country builds on the existing framework, by following international standards, to further intensify its nuclear security efforts and to build confidence in the masses.
As such, the existing regulatory and legal structure must be updated and to be dynamic to face new challenges such as coping with the development of fast growing nuclear technological advancements, diverse designs and long-term sustainable operation of the NPPs.
Writer: Shadika Haque Monia, lecturer at Department of Law at Britannia University in Bangladesh. She specializes in International Law.
BDST: 1353 HRS, JUL 17, 2021