Nuclear study starts next month

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Bangkok Post 18 June 2008

Five shortlisted for two years of research

The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat) next month will begin the feasibility study on operating a nuclear power plant in Thailand.

The move comes despite growing opposition by activists aimed at derailing the project.

The study was expected to take two years to complete, said Kamol Takabut, an Egat assistant governor for power plant engineering, at the Asean+3 conference on nuclear energy yesterday.

Five candidates have been shortlisted to conduct the study: Black & Veatch Co and Burns & Roe from the US; Newjec Inc and the Japan Atomic Power Company from Japan; and AF Colenco Co from Switzerland. The project mandate will be awarded next month.

Dr Kamol said the study would review suitable sites for a plant, as well as issues dealing with environmental management and prevention, safety standards, human resources, legal and economic matters and project finance.

Egat, which has considered 50 potential sites from old studies since 1982, has narrowed the list to 10 and plans to create a shortlist of three. Potential sites have not been announced.

Soaring fossil fuel prices have resulted in greater interest in nuclear power in Southeast Asia. Besides Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia are also considering nuclear power plants.

Norkhun Sitthipong, the deputy permanent secretary for Energy, said representatives from China, Japan, Korea, Asean and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) agreed to co-operate to support developing nuclear power in Southeast Asia.

Thailand needs to diversify its energy sources, since power consumption was rising by 5% to 6% a year, or 1,000 to 2,000 megawatts per year.

Heavy reliance on natural gas and oil over the past several decades has hurt the country over the past year as global prices have risen to record highs.

''[Thailand] needs to speed up development of renewable energy, such as biogas, biomass, wind farms and solar cells,'' Mr Norkhun said.

''But limitations in raw materials and equipment costs mean these technologies cannot wholly replace fossil fuels as an energy source. We need something else as well.''

Policymakers say concerns over the ecological impact of dams make new hydropower projects complicated, while coal-fired plants prompt concerns over emissions and air pollution.

But environmental activists say claims that nuclear power is clean and inexpensive are misleading.

Greenpeace activists yesterday rallied at the Plaza Athenee Hotel, the site of the two-day conference, to protest against nuclear power.

Tara Buakamsri, a Greenpeace activist, said the safety record of nuclear power worldwide was alarming to say the least. ''Finland is an example of failure on nuclear power as it had been detected over 1,500 serious risky spots that can lead to radioactive accidents only two years after the plant's completion,'' Mr Tara said.

Chavalit Pichalai, deputy director of the Energy Policy and Planning Office, said the conference was aimed at sharing information about safety standard of nuclear technology. ''The meeting is not a forum to say yes or no to nuclear power,'' he said.

Regarding the progress of nuclear power plant project in the country, Mr Chavalit said according to Thailand's power development plan (PDP), authorities will take until 2011 to consider feasibility plans for nuclear power. Egat, the state-owned electricity monopoly, will be responsible for the project.

The development plan calls for nuclear power to provide 4,000 MW overall, with the first 2,000 MW operational in 2020 and another 2,000 MW a year later. Once fully operational, nuclear power will account for 10% of the country's total power.

''The nuclear power plant will be required to imply with all 19 criteria issues of the IAEA, so it would help guarantee the safety to a certain level,'' Dr Kamol said.