DHAKA, Bangladesh, Oct. 3 (UPI) -- Bangladesh's prime minister inaugurated construction for the country's first nuclear power plant.
"It is a milestone in the use of technology (in Bangladesh)... I believe it fulfills the nation's dream," Prime Minister Shaikh Hasina told the groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday for the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant in the country's Pabna district, the Gulf News reports.
Hasina said the Rooppur plant, located 135 miles west of Dhaka, would provide 10 percent of the country's total power as part of the government's plan to increase power production to 20,000 megawatts by 2021.
While Bangladesh's electricity consumption increased by an annual average of 12 percent from 2000 to 2010, the extra demand has strained the country's electricity grid, reports the U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration.
About 88 percent of the country's electricity comes from natural gas but supply shortages have often resulted in rolling blackouts.
Mahboob Sarwar, general manager for production of state-run Bangladesh Oil, Gas and Mineral Corporation, or Petrobangla, said current natural gas consumption is around 2,300 million cubic feet a day from 25 fields against demand of more than 2,800 million cubic feet a day, Xinhua news service reports.
Data from the World Bank shows that only about 47 percent of Bangladesh's population has access to electricity.
The Rooppur plant is expected to be completed in five years.
While Russia, China and South Korea had earlier offered financial and technical help to establish nuclear power in Bangladesh, in March 2009 Russia formally proposed to build a nuclear power plant in the country. Dhaka approved the Russian proposal in April 2009, and the next month a bilateral nuclear cooperation agreement was signed.
An agreement with Russian state-owned nuclear firm Rosatom was signed in February 2011 for two 1000-megawatt reactors to be built at Rooppur, says the World Nuclear Association.
"We've asked Russia to attach utmost priority to safety issue," said Hasina, the Bangladeshi prime minister, Wednesday after laying the foundation stone of the first phase of the plant, Xinhua reports.
Hasina said the design of the plant is in accordance with safety guidelines of the International Atomic Energy Association.
"I believe Russia will implement this project in line with international standards, in the cheapest and safest manner possible," she said.
An unnamed official of Bangladesh's atomic energy commission had earlier told Gulf News that Russia "will provide necessary nuclear fuel for the plants on a long-term basis and it would take back the spent fuel of the plants."