Thailand exploring small modular nuclear reactor technology, says PM

FRIDAY, MAY 31, 2024

Thailand is exploring small modular nuclear reactor technology as Southeast Asia’s second-largest economy looks to diversify its energy mix amid dwindling reserves of natural gas that produces much of its power, Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin said.

“Our green transition goal is one of the most ambitious in Southeast Asia, and we have a comprehensive roadmap in place to have 50 per cent of energy production be renewable by 2040,” Mr Srettha said in a speech on May 31 at an American Chamber of Commerce event in Bangkok.

Alongside green hydrogen and battery storage solutions, the country is looking at small modular reactor (SMR) power plants to make manufacturing more environmentally friendly, he said.

SMRs are advanced nuclear reactors with the capacity to generate around one-third of the electricity produced by traditional nuclear power reactors, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). They can have a power capacity of up to 300 megawatts per unit.

Under a previous power development plan, Thailand’s first nuclear power plant was scheduled to begin operation in 2020 but the project was delayed after Japan’s Fukushima nuclear accident in 2011.

Southeast Asia currently has no operational nuclear reactor, although several countries in the region have sought to develop civilian nuclear projects, including through SMR technology.

Given their smaller footprint, SMRs can be sited in locations not suitable for larger nuclear power plants, the IAEA says on its website.

Prefabricated units of SMRs can be built and then shipped and installed on-site, making them more affordable to build than large power reactors, it says.

Thailand largely relies on natural gas for its electrification needs, with the fuel accounting for two-thirds of its electricity generation. The country has ramped up liquefied natural gas imports in recent years due to falling domestic reserves.

Renewable energy currently comprises around 23 % of Thailand’s total installed capacity, according to the US Department of Commerce, led by solar, wind, small and large hydropower projects. The country also imports hydropower from neighbouring Laos.

In its most recent power development plan, covering the period between 2018 and 2037, Thailand aims to meet 53 % of its energy requirement from natural gas, 36 % from renewable sources and 11 % from coal and other fossil fuels.