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Rooppur Nuclear Plant Unsafe, Not Viable

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Letter from Concerned Citizens

We, the scientists, engineers, academics, doctors, surgeons and other professionals of Bangladeshi origin living abroad as well as conscientious foreign nationals and dignitaries, are very much concerned about the safety and economic viability of the proposed nuclear power plant at Rooppur. Our concerns arise from the following considerations:

1. The site at Rooppur, by the River Padma, was chosen more than 50 years ago for a 10MWe prototype nuclear power plant on purely political grounds by the then Pakistani Junta (in 1961). No site selection procedure or environmental impact assessment was ever conducted, but the present government wants to build not just one but two 1000 MWe units on the same site. The River Padma is now heavily silted due to extraction of as much as 75 per cent of water during the lean summer months by India using Farakka Barrage only 40km upstream of the proposed site. The remaining amount of water is woefully inadequate to meet the plant cooling requirement for even one 1000MWe plant! This would increase the risk of nuclear accident as in Fukushima (loss of coolant accident) to an unacceptable level and the present government ignores this stark reality!

2. The Bangladesh government seems to have been blinded by the Russian offer to build a nuclear power plant and provide the loans for it. No consideration has been given to the suitability of the proposed plant (VVER-1000) or its safety standards. The VVER-1000 is quite outdated. Its safety standards fall so short that even in Russia the construction of one of the VVER-1000 plants was cancelled in 2008. Former Soviet block countries had to agree to decommission VVER-400 and VVER-1000 reactors before being allowed to join the EU. So why is Bangladesh now accepting such an outdated, unsafe and discarded model?

3. The Minister in Charge and the Chairman of the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission claim that Russia will build each of these units of VVER-1000 for $2 billion. However, Russia has said nothing at all to that effect. Of this $2billion, $500million will be spent on an exhibition centre, feasibility studies etc. The remaining $1,500 million is inadequate as a similar plant in China, with quality third party parts, is costing $4,500 million.

4. Bangladesh has no technical expertise or skilled manpower to undertake such a complex and high tech project. On top of that, the country has no industrial infrastructure and the transport system is absolutely rudimentary. Most of the materials to be used in the plant such as the quality assured high grade stainless steel, pipes, valves, pumps and other components will have to be imported and the cost will simply be prohibitive.

5. Bangladesh has no institutional and regulatory framework to undertake a complex project like this and consequently safety standards will be seriously impaired. The Minister in Charge claimed that Russia has assured Bangladesh of the safety of the plant; whereas the Russian state owned company, Rosatom (reactor vendor) has rightly asserted that the responsibility of ensuring safety lies with the licensee (Bangladesh government). The Bangladesh authorities seem to be unaware of the legal implications of the licensing regime.

6. It seems no consideration has been given to technical issues associated with the storage, transportation and disposal of radioactive material and radioactive waste. The government claims radioactive waste materials will go to Russia but Russia has said no such agreement has been reached.

Given these shortcomings and insurmountable impediments, the Bangladesh government should seriously consider abandoning this project. The risk of mismanaging a nuclear power plant is the inevitable occurrence of a nuclear accident and the consequences are simply mind boggling – thousands, if not millions, of people will be exposed to high doses of radiation, large swathes of arable land will be contaminated with radioactive materials and the country will be lumbered with billions of dollars of compensation. When advanced countries like Germany, Italy, Switzerland have all given up nuclear power plants and with Japan is tapering down nuclear power production after the Fukushima disaster, Bangladesh seems to be charging ahead recklessly. A grand vision is meaningless without competence, judgement and knowledge.

Signed on behalf of Voice for Justice World Forum


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