South tipped for nuclear plant

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Bangkok Post 11 July 2007

Ranong, Chumphon and Surat Thani provinces have been tipped as possible sites for Thailand's first nuclear power plant, as the country continues to struggle with sharp rises in fuel costs. The three coastal provinces have been selected due to their proximity to the sea as the abundant water can be used to cool down the plant's powerful nuclear reactors.

However, the government is still cautious about the idea and says the issue of nuclear power has not been finalised.

''Based on geographical advantages, those three coastal provinces are suitable for a nuclear power plant,'' said Science and Technology Minister Yongyuth Yuthavong. ''However, we can't have the final say right now about the exact location. Just let's say it is possible.''

Nuclear power plants are commonly located close to the sea or big rivers.

Chumphon and Surat Thani are on the Gulf of Thailand and Ranong is on the Andaman coast.

The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand previously selected Laem Pathiu in Chumphon's Pathiu district as a site for a nuclear plant.However, the project was suspended due to the discovery of natural gas in the Gulf of Thailand, enabling the government to postpone its nuclear plans.

However, the plan has been dusted off again. With the price of fossil fuels rapidly increasing, nuclear power is once more a favoured option for alternative energy sources.

The ministry is preparing to launch an education programme in the three selected provinces to ensure better understanding among the locals of the safety and the benefits of nuclear power, as well as its importance for the country, the minister said.

Under the Power Development Plan, policy makers hope to increase electricity production to about 55,000 megawatts by 2021, with 4,000MW being provided by nuclear power.

Sirichai Keinmeesuke, deputy secretary-general of the Office of Atoms for Peace, said selecting the location was a big challenge for the nuclear power committee.

''Personally, I prefer a site close to the sea because this would reduce the burden of transport costs,'' he said.

Pricha Karasudthi, vice-president of the Nuclear Society of Thailand, said other countries had benefitted greatly from nuclear energy.

''Why don't we open our minds to learn and know more about it,'' he said.