Nuclear study almost ready

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Bangkok Post 1 December 2010

Cabinet to look into details early next year

The Energy Ministry is preparing to submit its nuclear power feasibility study to the government early next year, according to the Nuclear Power Programme Development Office (NPPDO).

The power development plan (PDP) for 2010-30 calls for as many as five nuclear power plants with a capacity of 1,000 megawatts each, to go into operation between 2020 and 2030.

Energy policymakers since 2007 have been promoting nuclear power as part of a diversification strategy to reduce heavy dependence on natural gas, which accounts for 72% of all fuel used for power generation.

Burns and Roe Asia Co has been working on the nuclear plant feasibility study since October 2008.

It would be up to the country's energy stakeholders to decide whether the country will adopt nuclear power or not, said Chavalit Pichalai, the NPPDO deputy director.

He said that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the next two weeks would assess the criteria for Thailand's readiness for nuclear power development, particularly laws to support the programme, safety measures, environmental issues and public acceptance.

He said both the House of Representatives and the Senate were also conducting studies of nuclear power in parallel with the Environment and Natural Resources Ministry.

If the government decided to go ahead with nuclear power plants, then policy planners expect to recruit 200 personnel a year to handle the work starting next year.

Fourteen sites had been selected for studies by Burns and Roe, including Chai Nat, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Chon Buri and Chumpon.

Mr Chavalit said nuclear power was first proposed in Thailand in 1966 and IAEA had approved the standards. The Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand called bids in 1976.

However, the discovery of natural gas in the Gulf of Thailand in 1971 and the rapid development of gas-fired power plants led to the nuclear power plant project being scrapped in 1978.

But with the depletion of gas in the Gulf of Thailand in recent years, as well as heavy opposition to coal-fired power plants, nuclear power is back on the drawing board.

Vietnam and Malaysia also hope to build their first nuclear power plants within the next 10 years.

Mr Chavalit said the study would recommend other options in case the government delayed or scrapped the nuclear project. They would include buying more power from neighbouring countries, importing liquefied natural gas and pushing the fast development of coal-fired power plants.