Chinese companies have expressed great interest in bidding for Bangladesh’s proposed second nuclear power plant.
Two Chinese companies – Dongfang Electric Corporation and China State Construction Engineering Corporation – have started huge lobbying with the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission to bag the deal.
They said that the government conceived the second nuclear power plant in 2014, but was yet to seek any expression of interest from foreign companies or finalise a site.
The country’s first nuclear power plant is under construction at Rooppur in Pabna with over $12 billion in financial and technical assistance from Russia.
The first of the two reactors is expected to be commissioned in 202.
In 2017, during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s Delhi visit, Bangladesh signed three agreements with India for ‘cooperation in peaceful use of nuclear energy ‘ , including one for exchange of technical information in regulation of nuclear safety and radiation protection and another between the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission and India’s Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP) on “cooperation regarding nuclear power plant projects in Bangladesh”.
The GCNEP is a nuclear research and training centre currently near New Delhi.
But India has been slow to respond to the proposed second nuclear plant in Bangladesh, despite its reservations about growing Chinese footprint in Bangladesh.
Top Bangladesh officials said that some other Chinese companies, including Guangdong Nuclear Power Group, were making queries about the second nuclear power plant, though its site was yet to be finalized.
Science and technology secretary Anwar Hossain said that they were considering extending the duration of the site selection programme by six months.
Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission chairman Mahbubul Hoq has admitted to local mediapersons here that Dongfang Electric Corporation officials met him about two months ago and expressed their interest in the proposed nuclear power plant.
‘I told them that the project was in a very early stage’, Hoq is believed to have said.
He said that they were considering finalising the site from one of the four locations — Gangamati in Patuakhali, Mazher Char in Barguna, Boyar Char in Noakhali and Muhurir Char in Feni.
Gangamati may finally be picked up over the three other sites following the government’s plan to modernise Patuakhali’s coastal zone by a deep sea port and a naval base.
On April 7, China State Construction Engineering Corporation submitted a written proposal to the commission expressing its willingness to ‘undertake the 2nd NPP in Bangladesh’.
Mahbubul Hoq said that they were yet to respond to the proposal made by the Chinese company which had been responsible for the construction of the first Chinese nuclear power plant, Daya Bay, in 1987.
Officials said that the Chinese corporation promised ‘timely commencement and completion’ of the project against the backdrop of criticism that many projects, including Padma Multipurpose Bridge, implemented by Chinese companies in Bangladesh, have been hit by delays causing time and cost overruns.
Anu Muhammad , who heads the National committee to protect oil, gas, mineral resources, power and ports , told journalists that the government’s lack of transparency has encouraged the Chinese companies to bid for the second NPP project.
“They think they can win the project bid through backdoor manipulations,” Muhammed said, alleging a ‘nexus between locals and foreigners’ was influencing the government to undertake projects at inflated costs, which benefited corrupt politicians in the ruling party.
But though Atomic Energy Commission chief Mahbubul Hoq admitted the expression of interest by Chinese companies, Science and Technology secretary Anwar Hossain said his department was not aware of it.
‘May be the atomic energy commission is waiting’ until the project gets a concrete shape, he said.
Officials said that the government wanted to construct the second nuclear power plant in the coastal region to ensure availability of water.
For the first nuclear power plant at Rooppur, nearly 1,750 cubic metre of water would be fetched everyday from the nearby Padma River to cool the reactors, they said.
The atomic energy commission has also invited Japan Atomic Energy Agency to explore the possibility of building the proposed nuclear power plant with 2,000 MW power generation capacity.
Bangladesh’s rapid industrialization has made it desperate to augment power generation and the nuclear option was one under active consideration.