Bangladesh Thursday received the first consignment of uranium for its only nuclear plant being built with Russian assistance, with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina saying that the country will use nuclear power for peaceful purposes.
The development comes amid the Ukraine war, which has led to sanctions from the Western countries on several Russian companies. The sanctions delayed the project, which is expected to help the country's growing economy.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Hasina - both via video links - joined the ceremony where the uranium fuel for the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant (RNPP) was handed over to Bangladesh authorities.
Rosatom's chief Aleksey Likhachev handed over the fuel to Bangladesh's Science and Technology Minister Yeafesh Osman at the ceremony in the northern Pabna district.
"Today is a day of pride and joy for the people of Bangladesh," Hasina said.
"Bangladesh will turn into a smart country in future, and the nuclear power plant is another step towards building that Smart Bangladesh," she said. "We will use nuclear power to protect peace," she added.
Once NPP starts production, Bangladesh will become the 33rd nuclear power-producing country in the world, Hasina's ruling Awami League party said in a post on X.
Putin congratulated Bangladesh for its nuclear "graduation", calling Dhaka Russia's "tested friend".
"The flagship project meets interests of both countries and promotes further deepening of mutually beneficial cooperation," Putin said, adding that he kept an eye on the implementation of the project.
The Russian president also acknowledged India's assistance in building the project as some Indian enterprises were engaged as subsidiary companies for constructing the USD 12.65-billion two-unit NPP with Moscow providing 90 per cent of the construction cost as loan.
Putin said the construction of the NPP "makes a real, notable contribution to the development of the economy, strengthening the republic's energy security".
Hasina thanked Putin for "his guidance and assistance in construction of the nuclear plant at Rooppur, a township on the bank of the Padma River, 175 kilometres northwest of Dhaka.
Bangladesh this year faced its worst electricity crisis since 2013 due to erratic weather and difficulty in paying for fuel imports amid declining forex reserves and a weakened currency.
The first of the two-unit 1,200-megawatt is slated to begin operations next year and both reactors are expected to be fully operational in 2025 with officials expecting it to help Bangladesh cut carbon emissions significantly by 2030.
Under the Dhaka-Moscow agreement, Russia would take back the spent fuel of the plant.
According to Russia's TASS news agency, shortly before joining the ceremony, Putin gave permission to transfer fuel to the Rooppur nuclear power plant.
"Dear Madam Prime Minister, dear friends! It is a great honour for us to present you with a document on the delivery of nuclear fuel to the nuclear power plant. Dear Madam Prime Minister, I ask you to accept this document from friendly Russia," Putin said, addressing Hasina.
The physical work of the plant started in 2017 while US sanctions on key Russian firms over the Ukraine war, including Rosatom, delayed the construction work as Dhaka was unable to make loan repayments in US currency.
Dhaka decided to make payments of more than USD 300 million in Chinese yuan in an effort to dodge the sanctions but Bangladesh Bank officials said that the money was yet to be paid.
"The whole world is facing this payment problem and we're no exception...but we are trying to solve the problem," Osman said.
The lack of payment visibly has not affected Dhaka's pursuit of a closer relationship with Moscow.
The ceremony came amid strained Dhaka-Washington relations while the US and western countries are alleging that Hasina's ruling Awami League government is silencing critics and stamping out political dissent ahead of scheduled general elections in late December 2023 or early January 2024.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Dhaka for the first time last month where he criticised "the pressure exerted upon Bangladesh by the US and its allies". He added that Moscow would prevent any attempt to establish US dictates and interference in this region including Bangladesh.
The United States levelled enforced sanctions against Bangladesh's elite anti-crime Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) force in 2021 and several of its now former officials over accusations of their involvement in extrajudicial killings.
The US State department last month said it started enforcing a previously announced visa restrictions on Bangladeshi individuals responsible for, or complicit in, undermining the democratic election process in Bangladesh.
These individuals include members of law enforcement, the ruling party, and the political opposition (and) their immediate family may (also) be found ineligible for entry into the US, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said. PTI AR ZH ZH 10051946