PM details plans for N-power Energy needs cited but activists call for rethink

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Bangkok Post 4 September 2007

Experts will be recruited to draw up plans for Thailand's first nuclear power plant, aimed at relieving the kingdom's reliance on oil and gas energy, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said yesterday.

Gen Surayud said nuclear power was needed as part of a long-term plan to secure an energy supply for the country.

''Nuclear power is an alternative source of energy which is clean and does not affect the environment,'' he told a meeting of the Defence Council College. But the premier acknowledged the need for careful handling of the system and the radioactive waste.

Thailand is a net importer of energy. It gets 90% of its oil and gas requirements from other countries, mainly in the Middle East. The annual cost is about 900 billion baht, or about 15% of gross domestic product.

To prepare for the building of the first nuclear plant, the prime minister said the country would recruit 200 experts, including nuclear physicists.

A plan for nuclear power was first floated about 30 years ago but went nowhere. The interim government appointed after the coup decided to press ahead with it because of concerns about an energy shortage over the long term.

Under the plan, the plant would produce 4,000 megawatts of power and would be operational by 2020.

The preparations for a nuclear power plant would take about seven years and construction another six, the deputy permanent secretary for energy, Kurujit Nakornthap, told an Asean energy business forum in Singapore last month.

The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat), an agency under the Energy Ministry, is responsible for the project. It has not selected the site for the power plant yet.

However, an area close to the sea is thought most suitable because such a plant would need water to cool its nuclear reactor.

Navy commander Adm Sathiraphan Keyanont has admitted that Egat approached the navy for permission to build the plant at the Sattahip naval base in Chon Buri or in a coastal area in neighbouring Rayong province.

Adm Sathiraphan made clear that those locations would not be agreeable.

''I told Egat I would not do it. Sattahip is important for the operation of the navy. It is our home,'' he said.

''Rayong has a port. We cannot just give it [for the project]. We won't move elsewhere,'' he added.

In addition to nuclear power, Thailand is fostering energy cooperation with neighbouring countries, including the use of hydropower from Cambodia.

The prime minister said the dependence on oil would also be reduced by converting the railway from diesel to electrical power.

The nuclear project faces fierce opposition from activists concerned about the potential damage to the environment.

His Majesty the King on Aug 29 also called for careful preparations for a nuclear plant in his speech delivered to Thai ambassadors and consuls-general returning for an annual meeting to map out the country's international strategies.

Although acknowledging that the energy was clean, the King stressed the need for safety, citing the example of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Tara Buakamsri, a climate and energy campaigner from Greenpeace, said that the government should review the power development plan, which gave full support for the construction of a nuclear power plant.

''The decision on a nuclear power plant should not be made by the government alone. We strongly need people's participation in the issue that will definitely have an acute impact upon people's lives,'' he said.

Chirapol Sintunawa, a lecturer at the faculty of environment and resources study at Mahidol University, said nuclear power would benefit only the industrial sector.

Such power has never brought sustainable development to locals, Mr Chirapol added.

Korb Krittayakeeron, chairman of a committee on the feasibility of nuclear power, said the committee will today discuss the King's remarks on the planned construction of the plant.

Mr Korb said he would suggest that the Energy and Science and Technology ministers seek advice from the King regarding the issue.

His committee has set up six sub-panels to work on the feasibility study of the nuclear plant as commissioned by the Energy Minister.