By Ruma Paul
DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladesh received the first Russian shipment of uranium fuel for its $12.65 billion debut nuclear power plant on Thursday, making it the 33rd country in the world to produce nuclear power.
The south Asian country is building the first of two nuclear power plants in collaboration with Russian state-owned atomic company Rosatom. Ninety percent of the project is financed through a Russian loan repayable within 28 years with a 10-year grace period.
“Today is a day of pride and joy for the people of Bangladesh,” Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said during a video conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Russian Embassy in Bangladesh called a “nuclear fuel delivery ceremony” in a Facebook post.
Hasina’s government is under pressure from the U.S. to hold “free and fair” elections due in January, with Washington imposing visa sanctions on some Bangladeshi officials and political party leaders.
Last month Sergei Lavrov, the first Russian foreign minister to visit Bangladesh since its 1971 independence, assured Bangladesh that Moscow was committed to completing the project on time, despite obstacles from Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine.
Construction has been delayed because of COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and the sanctions.
Due to U.S. sanctions on Moscow, Bangladesh in December denied entry to a Russian ship carrying equipment for the plant.
The first unit of the plant, with a total generation capacity of 2,400 megawatts, was due to start operation in July next year but is facing a setback over loan repayments.
Bangladesh has faced its worst electricity crisis since 2013, a Reuters analysis of government data shows, due to erratic weather and difficulty in paying for fuel imports amid declining forex reserves and a weakened currency.
(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Richard Chang)