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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        20 January 2011

Nuclear future poses challenges

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Nuclear power is a must for Asia, and Vietnam is no exception. But cost, limited human resources and a lack of independent regulatory framework are among challenges in turning to nuclear power generation.

"How to manage construction costs is a key challenge," said Francois Nguyen, senior policy advisor of France's International Energy Agency, on the sidelines of the Nuclear Power Asia 2011 conference in Hanoi yesterday.

The increase of construction cost would make it impossible to provide electricity at a competitive price to consumers, which was one of the Vietnamese government's policy goals. "If the price is too high or significantly exceeds budget the cost of nuclear power will be prohibitive," Francois said.

"Nuclear power is currently the only option (excluding hydro) that can deliver low carbon-base load electricity at competitive prices."

Vietnam Atomic Energy Institute director Vuong Huu Tan said nuclear power could compete with power produced from imported coal, oil or gas. In the long run, the advantage of nuclear power was the expenditure for operation and maintenance was low, less than 25 percent of the cost of power compared to 60-70 percent for thermal power.

Answering a Viet Nam News reporter's concern about high cost as Vietnam will have to import everything for nuclear power plants in the initial period, Francois said it would depend on how the country negotiated with technology providers so they would have to comply with terms and conditions the two sides had already agreed upon.

Francois was among a panel of international nuclear power experts at the two-day conference which has attracted about 180 participants throughout Asia.

Such issues as how Vietnam addresses regulatory aspects to ensure safe construction and operation of its first nuclear power plant and human resource development were also raised by participants.

"The government is expected to pay enough money to ensure the quality of regulatory system," said Phan Minh Tuan, director general of nuclear power and renewable energy projects preinvestment board under the Electricity of Viet Nam.

An Atomic Energy Law had been approved, but documents were still being drawn up to make it more transparent and consistent with the International Energy Agency's guidelines, Tuan said. Participants were also told that Vietnam did not have any capable training facilities for nuclear power production. Universities and colleges had only just launched nuclear power engineering training.

Vietnam is the first Southeast Asian country preparing to build a nuclear power plant, estimated to cost US$12 billion.

Electricity of Viet Nam has forecast that if the country were to rely solely on local fuel sources to produce electricity, it will fall short by 49-112 billion kWh of electricity by 2020, depending on various scenarios. Thus, the government has approved construction of the Ninh Thuan No 1 and No 2 nuclear power plants with the capacity of 4,000MW in total.

As planned, construction of Ninh Thuan No 1 will begin in 2014 and finish in 2020. Elsewhere, countries considering and preparing for nuclear power amounted to 34. In Asia, such countries as Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines are also preparing for nuclear power.

Masahiro Aoki, senior nuclear engineer for the International Atomic Energy Agency, said developing countries had the same rights as developed countries to use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, and the same responsibility to do so safely.

The International Energy Agency said that Asean would see an average annual increase of 2.5 percent in its energy demand until 2030. It estimates ASEAN electricity demand to increase 76 per cent between 2007 and 2030.

"The conference is great because it brings together a lot of major players to discuss some of the issues that are poised to arise in the Viet Nam project and also other projects in the region," said partner of Norton Rose LLP Charles Whitney.

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