VietNamNet Bridge 22 October 2009
By Mr Vuong Huu Tan
VietNamNet Bridge – A public consensus has formed on Vietnam’s need to invest in nuclear power, though many questions were not answered in the investment report. Tien Phong newspaper raised some of these in a recent interview.
The nation’s first nuclear power project will be debated and almost certainly approved during the National Assembly’s autumn session. Vuong Huu Tan, director of the Vietnam Atomic Energy Institute, talked with Tien Phong newspaper about this great project.
Tan says the first unit of the nuclear power plant will go into service in 2020. Construction of the first turbine will begin in 2014 or 2015. Thus Vietnam has around five years to prepare for the construction.
The investor of the first nuclear power projects is the state power monopoly, Electricity of Vietnam (EVN).
Tien Phong: US$12 billion is a huge amount of money, about 13 percent of the country’s current annual gross domestic product (GDP). Is it necessary to invest that money to build a nuclear power plant when Vietnam can develop hydro, thermal and wind power at cheaper cost prices?
Tan: The investment capital in the first nuclear power plant will be $12 billion assuming the Incremental Capital - Output Rate (ICOR) is $3000/KW. Certainly we have to absolutely exploit hydropower because it is a renewable source of power. But after the Son La hydropower project, we hardly have any more sites suitable for big hydropower projects.
TP: How is the rate of return on nuclear power compared to hydro and thermal-power?
Tan: Nuclear power can compete with power produced from imported coal, oil or gas. In the long run, the advantage of nuclear power is that the expenditure for operation and maintenance is low, less than 25 percent of the cost price of power compared to 60 to70 percent for thermal power.
Once investment costs are paid back, nuclear power is the cheapest. The lifespan of nuclear power plants is very long. The new reactor designs can operate for 60-80 years. Investors can recover their investment within 20 years and then they only have to maintain nuclear power plants for the next 60 years.
When we put two turbines into operation, each with a capacity of 1000 megawatts (MW), we will have only 6-7 billion kilowatt-hours (KWh) a year. Meanwhile, Vietnam will need hundreds of billions of KWh of electricity. So the current nuclear power project can help a little. In the long term, when we build many more turbines, we can basically solve the country’s shortage of electricity.
TP: How will we run the first nuclear power plant? Don’t we lack human resources in this sector?
Tan: That is the common problem of countries when they begin building their first nuclear power plants. We will build the plant while training staff. For example, we only need to train workers to run the nuclear power plants two years before the plant is put into operation. If we train them right now, they will be unemployed.
We are working on a decree to implement the Law on Atomic Energy that emphasizes steps to secure human resources for this sector. I hope that before year’s end the Government will approve that decree.
TP: How many staff are enough for the first nuclear power plant?
Tan: Many for the whole project, but not so many for the nuclear part. For example, a plant with two turbines needs around 800-1000 workers but only 10-20 percent of them are nuclear technology specialists. The nuclear safety agency needs around 80-100 people.
TP: What about safety?
Tan: Because of accidents like Chernobyl, people worry about the safety of nuclear power plants but the modern reactor designs will ensure no such accident like Chernobyl. Even in the worst case, radioactive substance will never get out to the environment, but will be contained within the reactor vessels.
TP: What will we do with nuclear waste?
Tan: This is a world-wide concern. We will import nuclear technology and radioactive waste treatment technology from the same source. For low and medium-level nuclear waste, the treatment technology has been popularized and commercialized. It is safe and used by many countries.
Highly radioactive waste, the spent fuel rods, can be reprocessed into new fuel. Recycling this kind of waste is a highly sensitive issue because it can also be converted into weapons. Thus its disposition will be strictly controlled by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Masahiro Yagi, director of Japan’s Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), has been advising us. It is necessary to issue strict regulations in this field.
TP: How have we prepared the legal foundation for the first nuclear power plant?
Tan: In June, 2008, the National Assembly approved the Fundamental Law on Atomic Energy in Vietnam. Based on this law, we are developing specific legal documents, including three decrees.
The first decree will guide the implementation of some articles about nuclear power. The second is about nuclear power plants. The third will establish administrative penalties in the nuclear power sector. There are also decrees of the Prime Minister and ministerial circulars relating to the project.
TP: What technology will we choose for our first nuclear power plant?
Tan: There are three major types of reactors: boiling water reactor, pressurized water reactor and heavy water reactor. Vietnam will use the most popular type, the pressurized water reactor.
We will choose the most modern technology currently available, so-called third or third-plus generation reactors, to ensure safety and economic effectiveness.
TP: Have we scrutinized possible contractors?
Tan: We’re not tilting to any country yet. Japan offers an innovative pressurized water reactor design, Russia offers its third generation reactor, the VVR1000, and the US and France also offer reactors of the third or third-plus generation which can meet Vietnam’s technical requirements.
TP: Will we have to import fuel for this plant?
Tan: Yes, absolutely. In the long run, when we have enough nuclear power plants, we will consider the construction of a processing plant. We will import uranium to process into fuel bars.
TP: But Vietnam is said to have uranium deposits, so why we will have to import uranium?
Tan: According to initial surveys, Vietnam has around 210,000 tonnes of uranium in the Nong Son area of Quang Nam province but the ore quality is not high. We need further research about this.