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Restoring trust in nuclear energy

Update: January, 18/2012 - 09:58

by Thu Huong

HA NOI — International experts have called on governments to restore public trust in nuclear energy because nuclear power will be a critical source of energy in the future, particularly for emerging Asian economies such as Viet Nam.

Speaking at the "World Power Nuclear Briefing" held in Ha Noi yesterday, which gathered top experts in the industry to reassess policies and safety issues for nuclear development after Japan's Fukushima disaster, Barbara Judge, chairman emeritus of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, said nuclear energy was the only answer for most countries to energy security and energy independence, and deal with climate change.

"While renewable energy only works when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, nuclear energy goes all the time 24/7 at reasonable price," she said. "It's a long-term pay back and when it does pay back, you have a secure source of energy."

According to the World Nuclear Association, there are currently at least 434 nuclear reactors operating in the world, 61 nuclear reactors under construction in 13 countries and about 470 others being planned or proposed.

However, after the earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan in March 2011 and created the worst nuclear crisis since the Chernobyl disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, countries around the world have been reassessing their energy policies and regulations in regards to technologies and safety. Countries such as Germany and Switzerland are developing plans to phase out nuclear power altogether.

Among the post Fukushima issues, according to Lloyds Register's Global Nuclear Director Richard Clegg, were the increased need for independent oversight of the power plants, a focus on safety and an educated public.

As one of the new entrants to nuclear power, Viet Nam had also been putting more effort into ensuring the highest level of safety and security for the development of Ninh Thuan 1 and 2 power plants, said Deputy Minister of Science and Technology Le Dinh Tien.

"The consistent view of Viet Nam is to utilise nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in a responsible manner while ensuring safety and security," Tien said. "We have advocated the diversification of energy sources under its policy of sustainable energy development, in which nuclear power development has gained particular concern."

Phan Minh Tuan, deputy director of the Ninh Thuan NP Project Management Board, said that starting in 2012, Viet Nam had become an energy-import country due to the large amount of coal, gas and electricity purchased abroad.

Under the Master Plan for National Power Development during the 2011-20 period with a vision to 2030, which was approved by the Prime Minister, the first two units in Ninh Thuan will be put into operation in 2020 and are expected to generate 2,000 MW per year. By 2050, Viet Nam hopes to generate enough nuclear power to account for 20-25 per cent of its energy consumption.

Nubuo Tanaka, global associate for energy security and sustainability from the Japanese Institute of Energy Economics, said Viet Nam could learn significantly from Japan's "human errors" in dealing with Fukushima, including staff training and implementing effective mechanisms in the event of a disaster.

"We cannot avoid 100 per cent of the risk but we can be much more prepared," Tanaka said. "For example, the country has to be prepared for a total loss of electricity to a station that could happen when a tsunami or flooding occurs. What kind of back-up do you have?"

According to Tanaka, before Fukushima, Japan planned for 50 per cent of its power to be generated from nuclear plants, which was deemed "too high". The country recently established an independent panel to investigate the government's handling of the incident and will suggest a mix of energy that the country will need in the future.

"Japan and Viet Nam, we don't have much natural resources so we have to invest in diversifying the energy sources as much as possible," he said. The event is organised by Strategic Communications— VNS

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