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With Russian help, region looks to a nuclear-powered future

Jun 13. 2016
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By Pratch Rujivanarom
The Nation

Nuclear power generation appears to be an emerging trend in ASEAN, with many countries here signing up for related technologies.
Seven Asean nations, including Thailand, have already signed cooperation agreements with Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear-energy agency. 
The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) has also revealed it has been working with China, Japan and South Korea on nuclear power generation technology and sent 100 specialists to train for nuclear power plant projects.
If everything goes as planned, up to five per cent of the country’s power generation will be generated from nuclear by 2036. 
But for the plan to materialise, Egat will have to first ease the concerns of nuclear-technology opponents. 
While many experts say nuclear energy is safe and useful to ensure the country’s power security, some others have warned the negative side of nuclear power may outweigh its benefits. 
Silpakorn University Faculty of Science lecturer Renu Vejaratpimol cautioned that nuclear power plants can be dangerous if security is not sufficient and – should there be a nuclear meltdown, a large area around the stricken plant would be inhabitable  just as happened in Chernobyl and Fukushima.
“As we have seen in Europe, nuclear power plants can be a target for terrorism. My concern is that Thailand’s not ready for this kind of incident,” she said.
Somporn Chongkum, Thailand Institute of Nuclear Technology former director, has argued that Thailand should not shy away from nuclear power plants. 
“We are going to be left behind by our neighbours, if we still too afraid to introduce nuclear power. We have to learn more and understand that nuclear energy is safe and significant in order to assure the power stability of the country,” Somporn said, adding that the country’s power demand was on the rise. 
Vietnam has already signed an agreement with Russian nuclear agency Rosatom to build the country’s first nuclear power plant. Vietnam has also signed a similar agreement with Japan to construct a second nuclear power plant.
According to the World Nuclear Association (WNA), both nuclear power plants in Vietnam will be situated in Ninh Thuan Province. The Ninh Thuan 1 plant, constructed by Rosatom, will have a total capacity of 2,400 megawatts and begin construction in 2020. Ninh Thuan 2 Nuclear Power Plant, built by Japan, will have 2,000megawatts capacity and be complete by 2025.
Somporn added that Indonesia and Cambodia were also keen to start their own nuclear power plant projects as well.
WNA reported that Rosatom had announced a consortium with Indonesian companies to build a 10 megawatt experimental nuclear power reactor at Serpong near Jakata. The national energy development plan stated that Indonesia would be supplied with 5,000 megawatts of nuclear power by 2025.
Cambodia also recently signed deals with Rosatom to establish a nuclear energy information centre and a bilateral working group on nuclear energy as the first steps toward a nuclear power plant project.
“We have prepared for a nuclear power plant project for more than 30 years. We also have passed most International Atomic Energy Agency standards to build a nuclear power plant,” Somporn said.
However, energy expert Prasart Meetam said the nuclear technology was already obsolete and many developed countries were closing down their plants to open a way for renewable energy.
“There are around 430 nuclear power plants around the globe currently, but the number of closing down plants is higher than the new plants. Nuclear power may be the finest power source in the past, but it is now a sunset technology,” Prasart said.
He stated that Germany had pledged to close all its nuclear power plants by 2022 and had started to replace them with renewable energy, as it had planned to produce 85 per cent of its power from clean energy by 2050.
“Thailand is luckier than the European countries, as we are situated in the tropical zone and receive plenty of sunlight. We are also an agricultural country, so we have the ability to rely on renewable energy and don’t have to build a nuclear power plant,” he said.
Last month, the World Wildlife Fund disclosed research that it was possible for Thailand and the Mekong Region to 100 per cent rely on renewable energy, as the region has enough for clean energy and the cost of power generation is becoming cheaper and cheaper.

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