Opposition to nuclear energy project mounts Next govt to be asked to scrap or revise plan

Key Issues: 

Bangkok Post 9 November 2007

By APINYA WIPATAYOTIN & KULTIDA SAMABUDDHI

Environmental and energy experts are calling for the next elected government to scrap a controversial plan to begin construction of the country's first nuclear power plants by 2014, a project that has received strong support from the present administration.

Witoon Perm[p]ongsacharoen, of the Foundation for Ecological Recovery, urged the next elected government to revise the 15-year power development plan (PDP) that supports the switch to nuclear energy, saying it has miscalculated the country's electricity consumption growth which led to an unsuitable power generation plan. To meet predicted energy demands over the coming decades, the government plans to build four nuclear power plants with a total capacity to generate 4,000 megawatts of electricity, with the first plant due to be operational by 2020.

However, Mr Witoon said it was unacceptable for the military-appointed government to proceed with such a risky and costly project.

''The project will place a huge financial burden on the country from the interest on debts and loans,'' he told a forum on nuclear power held on Wednesday by the Thai Society for Environmental Journalists.

The Surayud Chulanont government has paved the way for the construction of the country's first nuclear power plants by approving the PDP and a 1.8-billion-baht budget for the project preparations and establishment of the Nuclear Power Development Office.

It has also set up a nuclear power infrastructure preparation committee under the Ministry of Energy to supervise the nuclear power development scheme.

Mr Witoon lauded some political parties, including the Democrats, Chart Thai, and People Power party, which had either declared a no-nuclear policy or vowed to revise the current plans. He said reliable research confirmed that nuclear power-generated electricity was much more expensive than other fuel sources.

He cited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's recent research which suggested that nuclear power plant developers must cut construction costs by 25% and shorten construction periods from 6-10 years to a maximum of four years in order to make the cost of nuclear power electricity practical.

However, Kopr Kritayakirana, chairman of the nuclear power infrastructure preparation committee, played down the environmental and economic concerns. He said his panel would need three more years to study the pros and cons before asking the government to make a final decision in 2011.

''However, once the government decides to go ahead with the project, it can't turn back, otherwise the country will suffer a big financial loss,'' he said.

Mr Kopr also defended the PDP, saying that although nuclear power was slated as a crucial option for maintaining the country's energy security, it didn't mean the government had to go nuclear.

''Energy sources can be changed, depending on the world's energy situation. If the price of fossil fuels and coal decline or there is more stable production of renewable energy, we may not need nuclear power,'' he said.