The Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant (RNPP), the first-ever nuclear power plant of Bangladesh, consists of two units – each with a capacity of 1,200 megawatts – is one of the most ambitious projects in Bangladesh’s history. The RNPP project is crucial towards achieving the goals of Vision 2041 and Vision 2050 by supplying the energy demand of the rapidly industrialising economy.
Bangladesh's decision to use nuclear energy is in line with its commitment to implement the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 7 (Affordable and Clean Energy). An International Atomic Energy Agency study, published in 2016, shows that nuclear energy is the least carbon-intensive sources and cost-effective.
Beyond the economic and environmental aspects, the project also symbolizes a new era in the Bangladesh-Russia relationship. Russia is one of the few countries which has maintained close partnership with Bangladesh since the latter emerged as an independent country on the world map.
During the liberation struggle of Bangladesh, Russia, the then Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), had supported the cause of Bangladesh inside and outside of the United Nations leveraging its positionas a permanent member and one of the two global powers during the Cold War.
After the independence, USSR provided valuable assistance to the government of Bangladesh in reconstructing the war-torn country. The USSR was the first major power to extend diplomatic relations to Bangladesh and was one of the first to establish air and sea routes between the two countries. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s visit to USSR in 1972was a testament to the close relationship between the two countries.
A new era of close cooperation between the two countries was heralded with the visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to Russia in 2013, the first prime ministerial visit in 40 years. The historic visit was aimed at expanding the cooperation and partnership in various sectors ranging from defense to trade to culture to energy.
It was no coincidence that for its foray into nuclear energy Bangladesh chose Russian company, Rosatom, as the preferred partner over a multitude of competitors.
The renewed focus on strengthening its relationship with Russia is a part of Bangladesh’s foreign policy goals of diversifying strategic and development partners while sticking with the principle of ‘friendship to all, malice to none’. In the last nearly eight years, several agreements, MoUs on cooperation in various sectors have been signed, not to mention the signing of a historic defense treaty and a treaty on cooperation in nuclear energy in 2013 during the three-day visit of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. While these two treaties are seen as the cornerstone of the revived relationship, the fast-paced construction of the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant is a testament to the deepening ties between the two countries.
The RNPP is a ‘signature’ step, as termed by former Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh Md Shahidul Haque, in the new era of Bangladesh-Russia relations. It is worth mentioning that this was not the first Russian engagement in Bangladesh energy sector; Russia has had assisted in building two thermal power plants – one in Ghorashal and another in Siddhirganj – in the 1970s. These two plants produce 20 percent of the total electricity production of the country.
Bangladesh has now emerged as one of the fastest-growing economies. To be on the track of development and be one of the high income generating countries by 2041 and a developed economy by 2050, Bangladesh needs a developed energy infrastructure. As part of the strategy of materializing the vision of turning to an industrialized and service-oriented economy, the Bangladesh government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has focused on the energy sector.
As it is observed that the deficit of electricity supply to both industrial and non-industrial sectors strangle the pace of economic development and industrialization, the Bangladesh government has been emphasising on the development on non-conventional energy sources, including development of nuclear energy. Signifying the close cooperation between the two countries, Russia has been at the forefront of supporting Bangladesh’s nuclear energy development programme through RNPP being the first step.
Besides providing financial assistance for the construction of the power plant, Russia is helping Bangladesh in building an indigenous epistemic community on nuclear energy. Bangladeshi students and academicians are being offered a scholarship for study and training on nuclear energy and related technology in Russia.
It would not be an exaggeration to say that the concrete engagement in strengthening the relations of both countries could be understood through the progress of the RNPP project.