Nearly all the countries of the world could use nuclear energy with the right preparations. The important thing is when a country is preparing to construct its first reactor it should also be training its people. In the preparations to get nuclear energy to start supplying electricity a country can do a lot of things in parallel.
It is important for Bangladesh to be part of the international community. The world will want to know about the Bangladesh project and how it is going. Bangladesh should not only listen to other’s experience, it should also tell about its own experience, because Bangladesh is now ahead of many countries in this region in terms of nuclear energy development.
Agneta Rising, Director General of the World Nuclear Association, made the observation in an exclusive interview with Energy & Power Editor Mollah Amzad Hossain on the sidelines of the Sustainable Energy Technology Asia (SETA) held in Bangkok, Thailand in March 2018.
India, China and Bangladesh are coming up very strongly with other Asian countries. How do you see the Asian future with nuclear power?
We see that overall there has been strong development in Asia over recent decades. But we also see that Asia can be divided. There has been strong growth in China and India, and now also Bangladesh. South Korea is very strong in nuclear and Japan is strong too.
Then we have South East Asia, where the use of coal has grown dramatically. Despite the well-known threat of climate change, despite ratification of the Paris Agreement there is still increased use of fossil fuel in this region.
I do understand people’s need for reliable electricity supplies, there are still a lot of people without access to electricity and demand is growing. That’s why this region is so exciting. We have many things we can do to improve this situation. These countries need to use nuclear energy because it is one of the best energy technologies available. It has a low carbon footprint, it is cost competitive, it is safe, reliable and delivers 24x7. Governments developing their energy infrastructure should incorporate nuclear for a stable electricity system.
We all know in terms of accident, there is much less casualties in nuclear energy than others. Still then, environmentalists groups from around the world especially the strong ones from Europe deadly oppose the nuclear energy. Country like Germany leads those types of campaign. Why, do you think, they oppose the development of nuclear energy instead of opposing costly fossil fuel-based energy sources?
There is good support for nuclear energy in many parts of the world, especially in many countries in Europe. But some of the anti-nuclear arguments that build on fear of radiation resonate with some people. If you look at the different energy sources and how much electricity they produce nuclear comes out as the safest, based on information gathering from reliable sources from around the world.
People living in countries where nuclear energy is established tend to be very supportive and have a good trust in nuclear. But when nuclear is discussed in countries with little experience it is very easy for loud negative voices to spread disinformation.
I think Germany’s decision to phase out nuclear energy and remain dependent on fossil fuels is extremely foolish. Subsidies for renewables have led to rising prices, but for very little environmental gain, as they have mostly been replacing the electricity that has come from already low carbon nuclear power plants.
You have vast experience in this field of nuclear. Bangladesh is a very small and densely populated country. The Prime Minister of Bangladesh is very keen and committed to develop nuclear power and that is why the country has taken a nuclear power project. Do you see any risk for the small, densely populated country that has water scarcity near the project site? What’s your advice for the country in completing the project and maintain its operations properly?
The fact that Bangladesh is a densely populated country is one reason why nuclear power will be so valuable. It generates a lot of electricity from very small land area, unlike many renewables that need a lot of land.
Nearly all the countries of the world could use nuclear with the right preparations. The important thing is when a country is preparing to construct its first reactor it should also be training its people. But you can do a lot of things in parallel.
Recently India, Russia and Bangladesh signed a tripartite agreement on supervision, training and implementation of the Rooppur power plant. How do you see this type of contract?
This tripartite agreement is an example of the growing trend for global partnerships that are becoming an increasingly important part of nuclear projects worldwide.
Another good example of such international cooperation is the new Hinkley Point C project being built in the United Kingdom. This project involves investment from French and Chinese companies in a plant that will be operated by the UK’s EDF Energy and will generate significant business for the UK’s supply chain.
I think that we need to see more of these kinds of international collaborations, with experienced nuclear suppliers working in partnership with host countries to share their know-how.
Can you give us some idea about the cost of nuclear power all over the world as compared to other fossil fuel?
In many countries nuclear is absolutely the cheapest form of generation. In other countries it may cost more than some other options. In some countries coal will be cheaper, in some countries nuclear will be little bit more expensive and if you go for onshore wind, some countries can find locations where it’s cheap, but in many places it’s expensive. I think it is extremely important that to look at the levelized cost of electricity. This allows different forms of electricity generation to be compared in a transparent and equal manner.Nuclear energy is overall cost competitive and comes out as one of the cheapest options on based on fair and transparent comparison of levelized cost of electricity.
It is also important to include the full costs and benefits of electricity generation. So fossil fuel generators should have to incorporate the cost of their greenhouse gases and other emissions. Variable renewables should have to incorporate the costs of back-up generation.
So nuclear is the best energy sources we can have. Of course, you need a big upfront investment but then it will be delivering electricity reliably for some 60 years. For the start there has to be a clear contract, a stable policy framework and a regulatory environment in order to provide the right signals for investors.
In our case, we are mostly dependent on gas, oil and some little coal-based power. We are also going for more imported coal and oil-based power generation as well as the nuclear power plant. We have already some manpower for oil and coal-based generation, but there is hardly any skilled human resource in case of nuclear power. So, where do you think is our cost advantage?
This is very interesting because of the many wider investments that a nuclear project brings. A nuclear plant will need new infrastructure – electricity lines, roads, housing for staff, there are so many indirect jobs, many of which won’t require specific nuclear skills. But training and developing people to be turbine operators, to be reactor operators skilled in nuclear technology brings enormous benefits, because you are developing people, providing them with highly skilled and rewarding jobs, and this development can take place in parallel with construction of the plant. This development brings also further benefits as economical growth for the country.
Last year, Bangladesh Prime Minister announced to go for second nuclear project after the Rooppur project. Should we go for the second project right at this moment?
There are some examples from history of countries that have followed this path. I could give Sweden as an example of a country that had very limited experience from operating some research reactors but then started building power reactors at two sites, and then three, and then four and then another in a neighboring country. The supplier was building reactors at five sites in two countries at the same time. Sweden at the time had a population of just nine million people, but started 10 reactors in ten years – one reactor per year per million people.
Building a second project shortly after the first has a number of benefits. Training can be a continuous process. People completing their role in the construction of the first site can transfer to the second site to bring their experience. Furthermore there are many jobs that will be in the local supply chain.
After the latest accident in Japan, more safety concerns came into the scene and the nuclear technology supplying countries are taking more cautions. With having all the developments, is nuclear really safe now?
I have to put it clearly and say yes. The nuclear industry has learnt a lot from what happened at Fukushima. Operators had to deal with many different external factors affecting the reactors at the same time – the loss of grid power, the flooding of the backup generators, the inability to pump water into the cooling systems. Nuclear operators, governments and regulators around the world carried out stress tests to check how their reactors would cope in similar circumstances, in particular how to maintain power supplies. Many now have access to additional backup systems, including mobile power units.
How International Atomic Energy Agency can help Bangladesh in its nuclear development efforts?
I think IAEA provides very good support to newcomer countries. In the agency they have lots of experience and skills, and they have developed a program showing what would be good practice for a newcomer country to follow. The recommendations are very good, how to establish infrastructure, what kind of milestones you will need to reach. You can also use the agency to assess whether you have successfully reached these milestones.
How World Nuclear Association can help Bangladesh?
First of all, it is important for Bangladesh to be part of the international nuclear community. World Nuclear Association is the global voice for the nuclear industry and is a nexus for our members. There is much experience within the industry, in the supply chain there are many types of services you will need to know about -- learning from countries that have overcome challenges in implementing a new nuclear power program. Learning about planning, doing maintenance, refueling, these are all activities where our members have a great deal of experience to share.
And the world and our members will want to know about the Bangladesh project and how it is progressing. Not only is it important for Bangladesh to listen to other’s experience, it should also tell about its experience going forward. Because Bangladesh is now ahead of many countries in this region.
I’m very excited that Bangladesh has decided to use nuclear energy; I look forward to hearing more about its progress.