By Kamran Reza Chowdhury
A Russian cargo flight carrying the initial batch of uranium for Bangladesh’s U.S. $12 billion Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant landed in Dhaka on Friday and was trucked to the facility’s site on the same day.
This was the first delivery from Russia with materials for the power plant since Bangladesh in December prevented a U.S.-sanctioned Russian ship from docking at a local port. A Russian state-owned company is building the plant.
“Uranium has reached the plant – this means that we will very soon get clean nuclear power from Rooppur. This is a big achievement for the country,” A.F.M. Ruhal Haque, chairman of a parliamentary committee on science and technology, told BenarNews.
Mohammad Hossain, a senior official with the energy ministry, told BenarNews that the plant was not expected to generate electricity before 2025, mainly because of a delay in setting up the distribution network.
“Unless the distribution line is finished, we cannot transfer electricity from Rooppur to the national grid,” he said.
The delivery of uranium comes less than a month after a visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Dhaka, when both countries agreed to deepen the bilateral relationship.
Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to appear at a virtual ceremony alongside Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina next week at a formal handover ceremony for the uranium.
Hasina’s scheduled appearance with Putin comes during a time of strained relations between Bangladesh and the United States. Washington has criticized what it says are curbs on dissent and free speech in Bangladesh ahead of the upcoming general election.
Last week, the U.S. announced it began taking steps “to impose visa restrictions on Bangladeshi individuals responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh.”
Mohammad Faruk Khan, an influential parliamentarian with the ruling Awami League party, said the power plan symbolized the enduring friendship between Russia and Bangladesh.
“The Rooppur nuclear plant is a symbol of Sheikh Hasina’s quest for new technology for Bangladesh and a symbol of friendship between the people of Bangladesh and Russia who supported us during our war of independence in 1971,” he said.
Bangladesh has long faced crippling power outages as it struggles to generate enough electricity to supply the nation of 170 million people. And while the government touts nuclear power as a durable solution, many question the project’s cost.
“The Rooppur nuclear power plant is a white elephant of a project. This is nothing but a wasteful undertaking for the country,” said Moinul Islam, an economist formerly with the University of Chittagong.
“Constructing a 2,400-megawatt power project at $12 billion is in no way economically viable.”
Bangladesh is also struggling to pay the yearly interest on Russia’s $11 billion loan because Moscow’s banks were cut off from the Swift payment system following the invasion of Ukraine.
Earlier this year, Bangladesh agreed to repay a portion of the loan in Chinese currency, but payment has been made.
A Russian request to open a branch of Sberbank, a sanctioned Russian bank, in Dhaka is awaiting a response from Bangladesh’s central bank.