The government seeks nuclear energy capacity of 15 GWe
The Wall Street Journal reports that Vietnam plans to have 13 nuclear reactors online by 2030 which will account for 10% of the country’s total generation capacity. The announcement came as part of the publication of a development plan signed by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.
According to the plan, the reactors will be built in eight locations in the central provinces of Ninh Thuan, Binh Dinh, Phu Yen, Ha Tinh and Quang Ngai. According to the plan, the first two reactors will enter revenue service in 2021.
The government estimates demand for electricity is growing by 16% a year. By 2025 the government plans to have half of the planned nuclear energy capacity online. Currently, about 30% of the country’s electricity comes from hydropower, which has a finite ability to expand to meet growth.
One of the reasons the country is placing its reactor in the central provinces is bauxite, the raw ore of aluminum. An April 2009 report in the Economist indicates View Nam has the world’s third largest reserve of it. Rather than just export a basic commodity to China, Viet Nam wants to move up the value chain and launch an aluminum smelting and manufacturing industry to export finished goods to global markets. Huge amounts of electricity are needed to run the basic aluminum smelters and nuclear reactors can supply it.
China will be the country’s first and largest customer for Vietnam’s aluminum products. Also, it will be the source of mining and engineering expertise to develop the bauxite deposits.
The Chinese do not currently export their nuclear reactor designs to other countries which opens the door to the Russians who aggressively market their designs for export.
Russians to build first two reactors
Vietnam inked a deal last December with Russia’s nuclear energy export agency to build the first two 1,000 MW units. Construction is expected to break ground in 2014. AFP reported June 22 the cost estimate for 2,000 MW is pegged at $8 billion.
Vietnam currently has no nuclear component manufacturing capacity nor a trained nuclear engineering workforce to build the reactors. These gaps mean everything needed for construction of the plants has to be imported by the Russians. The WSJ reported that 30-40% of the construction work will be done by domestic firms.
Nuclear safety developments
Vietnam does not have a mature nuclear safety regulatory body within the government. Vietnam news media reported June 17 that Nikolay Kutin, a Russian nuclear safety expert, said he will lead an effort to strengthen the capabilities of the Vietnam Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety and the Vietnam Atomic Energy Institute. Photo: Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (right) welcomes Nikolay Georgievich Kutin in Hanoi on June 17 (Photo: SGGP)
Kutin also said the country must develop its own cadre of nuclear engineers and safety experts to run the plants. He stressed the need to include public access to review of nuclear safety documents, which may be a challenge as the Vietnamese government imposes restrictions on the news media and the Internet.
U.S. prospects depend on diplomacy first then salesmanship
The Financial Times (FT) reported June 18 that Westinghouse and GE-Hitachi had made strong bids to be the first to build reactors in Vietnam. Though they lost that round, the newspaper reported they are in the running for future projects. Before either company can sell reactors to Vietnam, the U.S. must sign a bilateral agreement for nuclear technology exports.
The FT reported that U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Michael Michalak (right) said that such an agreement could be in place by the end of 2010. However, Dr. Ngo Dang Nhan, a Vietnamese government nuclear energy official, complained progress on the agreement was slow going and he said it would hinder the prospects of U.S. firms being able to do business in his country.
The Russians inked their deal with Vietnam, Nhan told the FT, by agreeing to help with nuclear safety after they had a contract to build the reactors. Nhan said the Americans essentially put the cart before the horse with ineffective salesmanship by wanting to set up the regulatory structure first and then offering to build the reactors.
Vietnam’s nuclear energy establishment may have had a predisposition for Russian reactors. While U.S. trade with Vietnam vastly exceeds bilateral trade with Russia, Vietnam remains a socialist country with communist hammer and sickle political orthodoxy retaining a central role in government policy despite its booming market economy and robust commercial relations with the rest of the world.
Prior coverage on this blog
- September 27, 2009 – a small country wants big reactors
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