DHAKA (Reuters) - Energy-poor Bangladesh began construction of its first nuclear power plant on Wednesday, announcing plans to complete the first of two Russia-backed, 1,000-megawatt reactors by June 2017.
The $2 billion project calls for up to $500 million in credit financed by Russia and a second reactor to be completed in 2022.
Russia's Rosatom will build, operate, provide fuel for the plant and process its spent fuel in Russia.
The project is part of an export drive backed by Russian President Vladimir Putin that includes state-run nuclear conglomerate Rosatom building first plants for Iran and Turkey.
Spanning all facets of the industry, from uranium mining to fuel enrichment and recycling and grid development, Rosatom is involved in 28 of the 68 nuclear reactors currently under construction worldwide, IAEA and Rosatom data show.
Bangladesh has struggled to meet daily power demand of more than 5,000 MW, and demand is rising by more than 7 percent per year. Heavily reliant on natural gas for power generation, the country's own gas production falls short of consumption levels, necessitating imports.
In addition to the nuclear project, the government announced earlier this year that Chinese companies would build a trio of power stations with a combined capacity of 1,000 MW to help ease the country's nagging shortages.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated ground work at the Rooppur Molecular Project Field nuclear project in Pabna, 161 kilometres (100 miles) north of Dhaka.
She said Bangladeshi officials had visited the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna and would ensure the project complied with all IAEA safety and security rules.
Bangladesh and Russia signed a memorandum of understanding and framework agreement in November 2011 and a follow-up pact this January.
The reactors are to operate for 60 years with options to extend by another 20 years.
Reporting by Serajul Quadir; editing by Jason Neely