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NEWS UPDATES 31 March 2010

Vietnam, United States sign nuclear energy agreement

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The US and Vietnam agreed Tuesday to cooperate on nuclear energy, a preliminary step toward allowing US firms to participate in Hanoi's plans to develop commercial nuclear power, tge German press agency DPA reported.

US Ambassador Michael Michalak said it should pave the way for a so-called Section 123 agreement, which would allow US firms to bid on Vietnam's proposals for two nuclear power plants.

"I would be remiss if I did not highlight that US companies can provide the most efficient technology, the most advanced equipment, and the most comprehensive engineering services available," he said.

Michalak also announced that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung would visit Washington to attend a meeting on nuclear non-proliferation.

Vietnam said it intends to have two nuclear plants in operation by 2020, to help meet electricity demand that is growing 15 per cent per year. By 2025, it expects 4.4 per cent of its electricity to be generated by nuclear power.

Nuclear technology companies from China, France, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the US are competing for Vietnamese contracts.

Tran Viet Ngai, chairman of the Vietnam Energy Association, said US nuclear technology "is much better than that of Russia, Japan, South Korea or France."

But Ngai said Vietnam was worried the US might link a decision to purchase nuclear technology to political or strategic considerations.

"Vietnam and the US used to be enemies, so the two sides are still suspicious of each other," he said.

Vuong Huu Tan, director of Vietnam's Atomic Energy Commission, said US nuclear technology "is clearly modern and very good," but that the decision on which companies would receive the contract "depends on many factors, like finance and others."

Michalak said the US Department of Energy had been cooperating with Vietnam's Ministry of Science and Technology to upgrade a research reactor in the south-central town of Dalat, as part of international non-proliferation efforts.

In 2007, the US helped Vietnam convert the Dalat reactor from highly enriched uranium to low-enriched uranium, which cannot be used in nuclear weapons. The conversion led Vietnam to return 4 kilograms of highly enriched uranium fuel to Russia.

Last week, Vietnam signed an agreement with the Russian state atomic energy company Rosatom to train Vietnamese nuclear engineers. A report in February said Vietnam had decided in principle to award the contract for its first nuclear plant to Rosatom.



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