By ACHARA DEBOONME
In an interview on the sidelines of the eighth “International Forum Atomexpo”, Nikolay Drozdov, Rosatom’s director of international business department, acknowledged that the speed of development in foreign countries, particularly Thailand, depended largely on public acceptance and the respective governments’ decisions.
“Public acceptance is a key element, and we pay much attention to it,” he said.
Last year, Rosatom and state-owned Vietnam Electricity signed a framework agreement for the building of Vietnam’s first nuclear power plant, which will have two power-generating units with a capacity of 1,200 megawatts each.
The technology is in the Gen 3+ series, which adds safety features including an independent reactor-cooling system to prevent meltdowns like the one experienced at Japan’s Fukushima power plant. One Gen 3+ plant has entered the physical start-up phase, making Rosatom the first in the world to commercialise this upgraded technology, which will be replicated in Vietnam.
Vietnam and Rosatom are now finalising the construction details. More than 100 Vietnamese engineers are now working at Rosatom sites, with more than 400 students studying in Russian universities. The construction period is normally 60 months.
After the Vietnam project, Drozdov sees the highest possibility that Indonesia and Malaysia will be the next in Southeast Asia to house nuclear power plants.
At the expo, a number of agreements with Indonesia were signed, also involving the training of specialists. This followed an agreement on the basic reactor design signed last year.
In the past few years, seven countries including Thailand have signed cooperation agreements with Rosatom. This month, a working group was established with Cambodia’s National Council for Sustainable Development after an agreement on the peaceful uses of atomic energy. Myanmar and Laos also have similar cooperation agreements.
Three Myanmar students are now studying nuclear science in Russia on scholarships.
Regarding Laos, Drozdov noted that the country owns vast reserves of bauxite, the key raw material of aluminium. However, foreign investment for aluminium production is impossible because of insufficient electricity supplies that could not be addressed by hydropower plants.
At the expo, Ponlok Tin, Cambodia’s deputy environment minister, said a nuclear power plant was an option given that Cambodia is a net energy importer and is also committed to tackling climate change. But all the advantages and disadvantages in political, economic and social aspects would be taken into consideration.
“It’s part of our efforts to be an upper-middle-income nation by 2030,” he said. “We fully realise the multifaceted challenges.”
As in Vietnam, an information centre in nuclear energy will be established to promote awareness.
The Thailand Institute of Nuclear Technology was a signatory to a similar agreement in 2014. Rosatom also keen for talks with the Thai science minister later this year to strengthen cooperation.
If Thailand goes ahead with a nuclear power plant, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand is expected to be responsible for it. According to Ratanachai Namwong, deputy Egat governor for power-plant development, preparations are ongoing.
About 100 people are being trained as nuclear-power-plant specialists, and since 2008 about 500 staff per year have received training on nuclear energy.
Public-awareness activities also continue. Without an information centre, general knowledge on nuclear energy has been included in school curricula aside from exhibitions. Lectures by Egat personnel at universities are included.
Egat also has technical-cooperation pacts with China, Japan and South Korea.
Drozdov said he understood that it would take time for other countries to follow in Vietnam’s footsteps, mainly on safety concerns. But he stressed that the company would be a responsible vendor to help those countries comply with all areas of international safety standards.
“First, all must go for a number of steps starting from infrastructure, involvement from the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and a regulatory framework.”
He said Rosatom was focusing a lot of attention on Southeast Asia, reflected by the decision to establish a regional headquarters in Singapore.