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Bangladesh’s Second Nuclear Plant, Chinese Companies Look Up For The Contract

“Currently, we have been working on site selection,” he said, adding that the officials of the Chinese companies formally expressed their intent through letters sent to the ministry of science and technology and the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission.

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Dhaka
Construction workers use heavy equipment while building Bangladesh’s first nuclear plant in Rooppur in northwestern Pabna district, about 160 km (100 miles) from Dhaka, in this undated handout photo. VAO

Three Chinese companies have started lobbying Bangladesh for a contract to build the nation’s second nuclear power plant, officials said, as the government pushed to finish its first multibillion-dollar Russian-backed nuclear reactor within five years.

Mahbubul Hoq, chairman of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, that officials of three Chinese companies met with him during the past few months and expressed interest in building the second nuclear plant, which is expected to cost 1.5 trillion taka (U.S. $18 billion).

“The project is at the formative stage,” Hoq said Wednesday. “We are yet to decide who would build the plant.”

“But the officials of Chinese companies came to my office and did show their interest in building the second nuclear power plant,” he said.

China
“The influence of Chinese companies has been on the rise,” said Hossain Zillur Rahman, an economist and former commerce adviser. “Now they want to implement nuclear power project in Bangladesh.” Pixabay

In November 2018, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina formally inaugurated construction of the first nuclear plant – estimated to cost more than 1 trillion taka (U.S. $13 billion) – in Rooppur in northwestern Pabna district, about 160 km (100 miles) from Dhaka.

Officials expect it to become operational by 2024, about a year from its original target date of completion. Previously, officials said the two reactors would be expected to produce a combined output of 2,400 megawatts per day.

“Hopefully, we will start producing electricity by December 2024,” Hoq said, referring to the first power plant.

He said representatives of the China National Nuclear Corp. (CNNC) handed him brochures about the state-owned company during their meeting at his office in Dhaka.

“Besides, two more representatives of the Chinese companies saw me in this regard. They assured us that they could build the nuclear plant using state-of-the-art technology,” Hoq said while declining to name the other companies.

The Chinese embassy in Dhaka did not respond to BenarNews emails seeking comments.

Hoq said Hasina, during a recent public event, pledged to build the second plant in the southern coastal districts.

“In line with her announcement, the authorities last year tasked us to find a suitable place to build the second nuclear power plant,” Hoq said.

Project director Mizanur Rahman confirmed to BenarNews that the government had approved plans to build the second plant in one of the country’s southern coastal districts.

“Currently, we have been working on site selection,” he said, adding that the officials of the Chinese companies formally expressed their intent through letters sent to the ministry of science and technology and the chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission.

Bangladesh has not decided on how it would finance the construction of the second plant. Officials previously told BenarNews that Russia was providing 90 percent of the funds for the first plant through soft loans, while the Bangladeshi government would shoulder the remaining 10 percent of the construction cost.

Getting dragged in China-India regional power play

China is one of Bangladesh’s largest trading partners, with bilateral trade reaching about U.S. $18 billion, with imbalance tilted heavily in Beijing’s favor. The Bangladeshi Army has been equipped with Chinese tanks, its navy uses Chinese frigates and its air force flies Chinese fighter jets.

There are 400 Chinese companies in Bangladesh, according to Chinese envoy Zhang Zuo during a speech at a Dhaka business event last month.

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Officials expect it to become operational by 2024, about a year from its original target date of completion. Previously, officials said the two reactors would be expected to produce a combined output of 2,400 megawatts per day. Pixabay

Bangladesh officially joined China’s massive One Belt One Road (OBOR) infrastructure initiative in 2016 when it signed agreements for implementing 27 projects, including 10 infrastructure initiatives that would be financed by Beijing, according to documents from the Bangladesh finance ministry.

“Of the total 27 projects, 10 are Belt-and-Road initiative projects,” a ministry official told BenarNews on the condition of anonymity. “But we do not mention in official papers due to political sensitivity about the BRI.”

OBOR, also known in other countries as Belt-and-Road Initiative (BRI), is Beijing’s globe-spanning project with a price tag of at least U.S. $1 trillion. It stretches across 70 countries and aims to become a 21st Century Silk Road by weaving a network of railways, ports and bridges, linking China with Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia.

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But involving Beijing in the construction of nuclear plants in Bangladesh may drag Hasina’s government into the power tussle between Beijing and New Delhi over dominance in South Asia, an analyst told BenarNews.

“The influence of Chinese companies has been on the rise,” said Hossain Zillur Rahman, an economist and former commerce adviser. “Now they want to implement nuclear power project in Bangladesh.” (RFA)

Next Story

India’s Ties with Bangladesh at their Peak

In a caustic comment it said that while details of the lavish meals prepared for the Bangladeshi leader were enthusiastically reported

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India, Bangladesh, Prime Minister
A Bangaldeshi media report claimed that there was little information available in the public domain about the agreements. Pixabay

Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina returned to Dhaka from a successful four-day visit to India last week having concluded seven agreements. But the agreements have caused unease among many in Bangladesh. Critics have panned the agreements as mainly advantageous to India and of little benefit to Bangladesh. Other commentators have called on the government to publish full details of the agreements.

India and Bangladesh signed seven agreements and MOUs on October 5, 2019 and a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) agreement for transportation of goods. The agreements include a pact for supply of LNG as well as water from Feni River to India, and for transportation of Indian goods through Chittagong and Mongla ports in Bangladesh to Tripura.

A Bangaldeshi media report claimed that there was little information available in the public domain about the agreements. In a caustic comment it said that while details of the lavish meals prepared for the Bangladeshi leader were enthusiastically reported on by the Bangladeshi media, there was no information on the nature of the agreements.

The agreements to provide connectivity were described as regional connectivity, but one critic termed them bilateral connectivity as they served Indian interests and had scant benefit for Bangladesh. “India certainly stands to benefit, but Bangladesh is yet to make a tangible assessment of its gains,” it said.

India, Bangladesh, Prime Minister
India and Bangladesh signed seven agreements and MOUs on October 5, 2019 and a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) agreement for transportation of goods. Pixabay

India’s smaller South Asian neighbours have often perceived New Delhi as exploitative for using its clout to negotiate one-sided agreements advantageous to India while ignoring its neighbours’ interests.

Sheikh Hasina defended her government’s decision to supply 1.82 cusecs of water from the Feni river to India for drinking water purposes as a very small amount of water.

“If someone asks for drinking water, how can we deny it?” she said.

Regarding the agreement to supply of LPG, she added that it was not CNG that Bangladesh would be selling to India, but LPG, which was a byproduct in the refining of oil. In 2001, the possibility of selling natural gas to India had become a major controversy in Bangladesh with Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League party objecting to the sale of a scarce resource.

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The agreement to supply Feni river water has rankled as there has been no movement on finding a resolution on the sharing of Teesta River waters. The criticism acquired a serious turn with the murder of a second year student of the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology by fellow students for criticizing Sheikh Hasina and the agreements in a Facebook post. The students were allegedly members of the Chhatra League, the youth wing of the ruling Awami League party.

India’s ties with Bangladesh are at their peak, among the best of India’s relations with its South Asian neighbours. But the criticism of the agreements with India is evoking memories old irritations and suspicions.

There are several pending issues between India and Bangladesh such as the huge trade deficit and sharing of Teesta river waters. Dhaka has been remarkably patient over New Delhi’s problems in agreeing to a resolution on sharing of the river waters.

Sheikh Hasina’s government has accepted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assurance that he would work towards a satisfaction resolution to the ticklish issue. The main impediment on the Teesta issue is the stance of the Mamata Bannerjee-led West Bengal government.

India, Bangladesh, Prime Minister
The agreements include a pact for supply of LNG as well as water from Feni River to India, and for transportation of Indian goods through Chittagong and Mongla ports. Pixabay

The National Register of Citizens exercise in Assam with identification of illegal migrants has raised grave concern in Bangladesh. Sheikh Hasina has accepted for now the Indian stance that it is an internal matter of India. But comments by Indian leaders about pushing out the foreigners have their ripples in Bangladesh which facile assurances do not alleviate.

Building trust between the two neighbours has been a slow and steady process that involved wiping away the mistrust and suspicion that that had plagued relations for long. The resolution of the sharing of the Ganga waters removed a major irritant in the ties.

Sometime later, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s assurance that Bangladesh territory would not be used for anti-India activities and its effective implementation became the first major step in building the trust. The resolution of the Land Boundary Agreement for demarcating the border was the second positive factor in generating trust and confidence. It created the environment for closer cooperation between the two countries. Both Dhaka and New Delhi have used the friendly environment to construct a cooperative relationship.

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New Delhi can easily lose that goodwill if the sentiment that India is uncaring and lackadaisical about issues of interest to Bangladesh begins to gain ground in Dhaka. New Delhi needs to be more sensitive to Dhaka’s concerns. It should speed up tackling the long pending issues before they build up into a major grievance in Bangladesh, which could make it difficult to implement already concluded agreements. (IANS)