DOUBTS ON NUCLEAR PLANS GROW AFTER JAPAN MISHAP
By Tran Dinh Thanh Lam
HO CHI MINH CITY, Aug. 17, 2004 (IPS/GIN) -- The recent
Mihama Nuclear Power Plant mishap -- Japan's worst nuclear
accident to date -- has prompted many Vietnamese to question
plans to develop the country's first atomic plant by 2017.
"The Mihama accident will turn the worries expressed by
some Vietnamese experts into actualities," Hoang Van, a
writer at the 'Science and Life' magazine told IPS.
In November 2003, Vietnam energy authorities completed a
pre-feasibility study for the country's first atomic power
plant, estimated to cost four billion U.S. dollars. A
proposal was then submitted by the Vietnam Atomic Energy
Institute (AEI) to the government to develop the nuclear
plant by 2017.
According to AEI, Vietnam's electricity consumption has
increased by 12 percent to 15 percent a year in recent
years. Currently, the country produces 5,500 megawatts to
6,000 megawatts a year, 55 percent of which is generated by
The institute said the country will need 20,000 megawatts
to 30,000 megawatts of electricity by 2020, and nuclear
power is needed to help meet that demand.
The AEI has selected six places in four central provinces
as possible locations for a nuclear power plant - one in
Quang Binh, one in Phu Yen and two each in Binh Thuan and
Ninh Thuan provinces.
But many analysts have questioned why Vietnam, one of the
world's poorest countries, needs to consider nuclear energy
when it has plenty of natural gas and coal, and suitable
conditions for hydropower.
The Japan accident occurred on Aug. 9 after super-heated
steam leaked through a hole in a pipe that feeds steam in
the turbine facility of the Mihama plant and killed four
"Obviously there are questions about safety and whether
we have the proper trained personnel to run the plant," said
Nguyen Ngoc Tran, deputy chairman of the National Assembly's
"AEI says that we should put the nuclear power plant into
operation by 2020 because at that time we will be in short
supply of energy. I think it is not totally right," he said.
Tran said he had conferred with many scientists in the
National Committee for Science, and they all rejected AEI
opinion. "The time we need nuclear energy is still far away,
maybe in three or four decades time," Tran told IPS.
This was also the opinion of Professor Dang Vu Minh,
Director of Vietnam's Institute of Science and Technology.
"We need to find out if by 2020 there are no other
solutions to solve the energy problem, then we will consider
developing the nuclear plant," he said in an interview.
Japan is assisting Vietnam to build the nuclear power
plant with the AEI working closely with the Japan Atomic
Industry Forum or JAIF.
The construction date has also got the experts worried.
The AEI initially planned the plant for 2017, but after
consulting JAIF it decided to advance the construction
closer to 2012.
"Why such a hurry?" asked Prof Pham Duy Hien, one of
Vietnam's leading experts on atomic energy.
Hien has expressed all his reservations about the safety
of the plant in an article on 'VietnamNet' last June.
"As one of the persons in charge of developing nuclear
energy 25 years ago, I have no other dream than seeing a
nuclear power plant built in Vietnam during my life.
However, I believe that unless all the scientific and
technological criteria were met, the construction of the
plant would be not viable," he wrote.
In an interview with IPS, Hien said he doubted Vietnam
would be ready for nuclear energy given safety concerns.
"Even by the year 2017, Vietnam will not be ready for
nuclear energy. The country lacks necessary human resources
as well as a legal infrastructure to address nuclear
accidents if they happen," said Hien.
The atomic energy expert said it takes at least 15 years
to train specialists to operate a nuclear reactor. "If we
want them to manage and operate the power plant by 2020, we
need to send them overseas to have some training now."
Nguyen Ngoc Tran of the National Assembly's Foreign
Committee also cautions the country not to hurry, and to
wait for more reliable and environmentally friendly
"We will adopt nuclear energy, but we will adopt it with
care and safety. We should pick up the best and safest
technology that has the less impact on the environment," he
Tran said that the technology currently presented to
Vietnam, to build the nuclear power plant, is of the third
generation type. This, he said, is not very secure.
He suggested waiting for the fourth generation of
reactors, which are more secure and generate less nuclear
waste. These reactors will only be available by 2025 at the
Dr. Nguyen Khac Nhan from Strasbourg, France, a former
adviser at Electricite de France (EDF) was more categorical.
"Saying there is no other way than nuclear energy is
rejecting the world's efforts in saving energy and
developing other sources, especially renewable ones," he
Nhan said out that by 2020-2030, renewable energies like
wind and solar would be more economical and could compete
with oil and gas - which by then could be scarce.
He stressed that safety of nuclear plants is an issue
that needed serious consideration. "The Mihama accident
should be an eye-opener for our planners