Describing the country's nuclear energy programme "very transparent", Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday said her government has given top priority to the issue of nuclear safety and radiological protections in the implementation of Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant (RNPP).
"We're strictly following the IAEA safety standard and other relevant guidance as well as international good practices in constructing the plant," she said while inaugurating the first concrete pouring work of the much- awaited Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, the maiden nuclear plant of the country here yesterday noon.
The premier said the Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority has been continuously supervising and monitoring the safety aspects at every step of the plant as per Bangladesh Atomic Energy Regulatory Act-2012 and the IAEA guidelines.
She said the government has promulgated the Bangladesh Atomic Energy Regulatory Act-2012 to strengthen the national nuclear regulatory infrastructure to ensure safe and secure applications to nuclear techniques and building the country's first nuclear power plant.
Sheikh Hasina said the country's nuclear energy programme is very transparent as it has signed all the major international treaties, agreements and protocols related to the nuclear nonproliferation.
The prime minister said an independent nuclear regulatory authority styled as Bangladesh Atomic Energy Regulatory Authority has already been formed and bilateral relationship with the nuclear regulatory body of Russian Federation as well as the IAEA has been established for the capacity building of our national nuclear regulatory authority.
Science and Technology Minister Architect Yeafesh Osman presided over the function, while Land Minister Shamsur Rahman Sharif Dilu, Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Science and Technology Ministry Dr AFM Ruhal Haque, Russia's state-run atomic energy body Rosatom's Director General Alexey Likhachev and International Atomic Energy Agency Director Dohee Hahn spoke on the occasion.
Science and Technology Secretary Md Anwar Hossain delivered the welcome address, while Project Director of the plant Dr Md Shawkat Akbar gave an overview on the construction of the power plant.
Ministers, advisers to the premier, parliament members and high civil and military officials were present on the occasion.
Taking a swipe at those who are very much critical about the Nuclear Power Plant project, the premier said, "Many have raised various types of question over the construction of this plant project. But, I think those who raised the questions lack self-confidence to a big extent," she said.
Referring to Bangabandhu's autobiography "Unfinished Memoirs of Bangabandhu", Sheikh Hasina said that there are some people who suffer from "parasrikatorata" (jealousy) and don't like the development of others as well as they are always out to find negative sides in everything.
"There is a quarter in the country who always think themselves experts in every subject and they raise questions in the TV channels on various issues as some 23 satellite channels are in operation. They should have thought that the question which they raised is baseless and they shouldn't think that our patriotism is less than their patriotism," she said.
The premier also suggested those who are participating in the TV talk shows as well as suffering from anxiety not to misuse their energy in such criticisms, rather to preserve and utilize that energy in giving suggestion on how the country could be advanced further towards prosperity.
Noting that her government has put utmost importance to ensure overall nuclear security during construction of the plant, Sheikh Hasina said this plant would surely take place in the country.
She also informed that necessary training would be imparted to the security personnel concerned for ensuring multitier security of the plant.
Sheikh Hasina said this is a joyful day for us as Bangladesh entered the nuclear world with beginning of the construction work of the main structure. "It's a pride and joy for us as a nation," she said.
The premier said the construction of Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant is our long-cherished dream that was sown in 1961 in the then Pakistan era. At that time several physical works, including land acquisition, were completed, she said.
"But the Pakistan government abruptly stopped the work and shifted the plant to West Pakistan showing step-motherly attitude to the East," she said.
After liberation, she said, Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman undertook reconstruction of the war-ravaged country alongside construction of Rooppur nuclear plant.
Sheikh Hasina said Bangabandhu ordered to establish contact with the nuclear power plant construction firms. "As per his directive, work started but with his brutal assassination on 15th August 1975, the entire process was abandoned," she said.
The prime minister said the Awami League government after assuming office again in 1996 revived the project for its implementation. Mentioning that establishment of a nuclear power plant is a complex and lengthy process, she said nuclear safety and waste management are very critical.
"So, the construction process goes through a lot of international rules and regulations ... we included the nuclear power generation programme in our energy policy of 1996," she said.
Sheikh Hasina said the previous Awami League government sought cooperation of IAEA for commissioning the Rooppur nuclear power plant. "A time-bound plan has also been worked out with the help of IAEA. But before completion of the entire process, our 1996-2001 tenure ended," she said.
After coming to power in 2001, she said, the BNP-Jamaat government stopped implementation of many people-centric programmes and Rooppur power plant was such a project that was not implemented.
The premier said after assuming office in 2009 again, the government took up the project again and Russian Federation came forward to help implement the project.
In this connection, she expressed gratitude to the Russian government and its people for extending the support.
Highlighting various steps of her government for power sector development, the premier said the government recognizes that electricity is a key ingredient for socioeconomic development of the country.
"Adequate and reliable supply of electricity is an important pre-requisite for attracting both domestic and foreign investment. Electricity is in the priority list of the demands of the people," she said.
The prime minister said the government has taken initiatives to meet the high demand of people after taking office in 2009. At that time, the total electricity production was 3200 megawatt which was too small compared to the demand, she said.
Sheikh Hasina said the government undertook short, mid and long-term plans to meet the demand. "Now the total electricity production capacity rose to nearly 16,000 megawatt and about 83 percent people have come under electricity coverage," she added.
In order to have a sustainable power supply, she said, the government has laid emphasis on alternative sources of energy like solar power, nuclear power, wind energy alongside fossil fuels in our energy policy," she said.
The premier said the country would get 1200 megawatt of electricity from Rooppur power plant by 2023 and another 1200 megawatt by 2024.
"Nearly 10 percent of the total production will come from nuclear energy source by that time," she added.
Sheikh Hasina said the government wants to transform Bangladesh into a middle income country by the year 2021, the Golden Jubilee year of Bangladesh's Independence, and a developed one by 2041. "I hope that Rooppur Power Plant will play an important role in achieving the goal," she said.
Earlier, the premier opened the first concrete pouring work of the nuclear power plant by unveiling a plaque. She also formally launched the main construction work of the plant by pouring concrete at the plant site at Rooppur in Iswardi of northern Pabna district yesterday morning.
The premier released a commemorative postage stamp and a first day cover on the occasion.
Earlier, Rosatom's Director General Alexey Likhachev called on the prime minister at the office of the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant and discussed various issues of the plant as well as energy cooperation between Bangladesh and Russia.
The Rooppur plant is expected to add 2,400MW of electricity to the national grid by 2024, helping the country to meet an increasing demand for electricity.
The mega project is being implemented by the state-run Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC) under the Science and Technology Ministry, with financial, technical and technological support given by Russia through its state nuclear agency, Rosatom.
The Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC) and Russian company, JSC Atomstroyexport, signed a general contract for construction of Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) on December 25 in 2015.
BAEC Chairman Md Monirul Islam and Vice President of Atomstroyexport Vladimir N Savuskhin signed the contract on behalf of their respective organisations.
Atomostroyexport, the contractor appointed by Russia's state-owned atomic power body , Rosatom, will construct the NPP at a cost of $12.65 billion, out of which, $10.1 billion has been fixed as base price, $1 billion for soil stabilisation and the remaining $1.65 billion for price escalation.
On December 15 in 2015, the government finalised the amount for the biggest-ever investment project in the country's history by inking an initial agreement with Russia.
Earlier in January 2013, an inter-governmental agreement was signed for the provision of a $500 million Russian loan to finance engineering design, site development and personnel training.
On November 2, 2011, Bangladesh signed a deal with Russia's state-owned nuclear giant Rosatom to construct the nuclear plant.
Russia will provide all assistance under the agreement for setting up the plant, including providing the fuel and taking back the used fuel.
A total of 262 acres of land have been acquired to set up two units of the plant with a capacity of 2,400-MW. On October 2, 2013, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina laid the foundation stone of the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant at Iswardi in Pabna.