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“Is nuclear power the answer for Bangladesh?”
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“Is nuclear power the answer for Bangladesh?”

Mehzabin AhmedBangladesh is looking at nuclear power to solve its electricity needs, but Mehzabin Ahmed, 29, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Dhaka, Bangladesh, argues that disasters, environmental impact and the trend in Europe are reasons to re-think that option.

2011. I remember monitoring the news every hour, anxious about what was going on with the Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown in Japan.

I was worried about a land and people, half the world away, whom I have never met. But today, similar troubles seem to be knocking right at my doorsteps.

While I was too young to grasp the horrendous magnitude of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster resulting from a 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami in Japan in 2011 quite changed my perspectives towards nuclear power plants.

Today, developed countries like Germany, Switzerland, and Japan are considering phase-out plans for their nuclear power stations. While on the other corner of the world, my beloved low-tech Bangladesh is contracting for nuclear power plants in Rooppur, along the river Padma.

Switzerland and Spain have also banned the construction of new nuclear reactors, while solar and wind power is gaining over nuclear power in China.

While some may argue we need electricity for development, why not use modern technology to acquire it? I lay anxious as to whether or not we as a country are prepared and capacitated to handle such technology.

Does Bangladesh have the technical expertise or skilled manpower to undertake such a complex and high tech project? Do we have the industrial infrastructure and the transport system to handle radioactive waste management?

Critics also argue that the site at Rooppur was chosen more than 50 years ago for a ten MWe prototype nuclear power plant on purely political grounds by the then-Pakistani Junta in 1961. No site selection procedure or environmental impact assessment has been conducted since then to choose this same site for two 1,000 MWe units today.

On the other hand, the River Padma is now heavily silted due to extraction of as much as 75 per cent of its water during the lean summer months by India, using Farakka Barrage, only 40 km upstream of the proposed site. The remaining amount of water is thus quite inadequate to meet the plant cooling requirement for even one 1,000 MWe plant.

Safety concerns are further raised as the Bangladesh government is acquiring a VVER-1000 reactor for this nuclear plant from Russia. Countries had to agree to decommission VVER-400 and VVER-1000 reactors before being allowed to join the European Union. Opponents also question that if we really have to adapt nuclear technology, why not use VVER-1200 or VVER-1500 or even ACPR 1000 (used in China) technology to minimize the risk?

Is there really no safer and more viable method for acquiring the electricity we need other than at the cost of risking a nuclear mayhem at Rooppur? Is there really no alternative to the coal powered plants, set to be installed at the heart of our Sunderbans, the world’s largest mangrove forest?

We may be facing an energy crisis at our country, but are short-sighted quick fixes the answers to our problems?

It is however noteworthy that Bangladesh recently proudly celebrated the installation of two million solar home systems by rural consumers, through the hard work of our Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL). Perhaps, we should consider looking at investing further in such safer and more environmentally friendly renewable energy systems in a larger industrial as well as urban scale.

Side by side, we should also look into reducing duties and taxes on import and installation of solar panels, and other sources of renewable energies to enable conditions for a green economy.

It is also about time we started planning for the long term development of our country, making our position on possible impacts on our environment and the climate non-negotiable.

 photo credit: Ben McLeod via photopin cc

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About me:

“I come from Bangladesh, home to the Royal Bengal tigers and the longest natural beach in the world. I am passionate about working for sustainable solutions to development. I currently work as a development practitioner in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I am also a freelance journalist and a novice debater.

“I am bilingual in Bangla and English. I love learning new languages, and am a keen but elementary student of French. What I have learnt from wise words and life experiences is that, “If you want others to change, you have to be willing to change yourself as well”. Feel free to call me Simi.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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