In conversation with Investment and Finance, Sai Gon Giai Phong Newspaper in mid-August, President of Vietnam Atomic Energy Institute (VINATOM) Dr. TRAN Chi Thanh who is a specialist in the field of nuclear power safety and technology, noted that planning scenarios of nuclear power construction and development deserves serious consideration in order to ensure national energy security in the medium and long term. Sai Gon Giai Phong (English: Liberated Saigon) also known as SGGP, is a Vietnamese Communist Party newspaper published from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. The following is a transcript of the interview in English version.
REPORTER: – The issue of nuclear power construction and development has not been mentioned in National Power Development Master Plan VIII for the period 2021 – 2030. Regarding national energy security in the medium and long term, is this a shortcoming, Sir?
DR. TRAN CHI THANH: I would like to answer the questions related to nuclear power as a researcher in the field of nuclear technology and safety. In 2017, we introduced a new Planning Law (implemented by the Ministry of Planning and Investment). In 2018, some planning articles were amended.
According to the new regulations, the subject for nuclear power development planning is supposed to be developed and issued in the future. However, it has been neither implemented nor assigned to any Ministry yet. Therefore, Master Plan VIII had no legal basis to introduce nuclear power.
From the perspective of science and national energy security in medium and long term, it is necessary to take into account introducing nuclear power scenarios. Nuclear power is a reliable power source with large capacity, stable baseload in the electricity system, zero greenhouse gas emissions, uncomplicated fuel supply and storage, etc.
Nuclear power and renewables are the latest development trends of many countries around the world. However, as mentioned above, it is essential to have a legal basis to put this issue into research and calculation. The mission of building a nuclear power development plan is likely to be established soon, depending on the necessity and development strategy.
REPORTER: – In comparison with other types, what advantages does nuclear power have in terms of environment impacts, cost efficiency and energy security?
DR. TRAN CHI THANH: Nuclear power outweighs fossil and renewable energies because it produces no greenhouse gas emissions and causes no environmental pollution or incidents, as long as the operation conditions are normal and safe. The safety issues can be handled with substantial support of current innovative technologies. Nuclear power is regarded as a viable option to increase the diversity of our energy portfolio, the fuel reserve capabilities for many years to come, and the independence of fuel transportation issues, ensuring energy security.
A large, stable and reliable power source like nuclear power facilitates the development of industries.
It also offers economic benefits in the long term, as the lifetime of current nuclear power plants can last beyond 60 years and up to 80 years if their construction and operation are well managed. Additionally, the development of nuclear power will intensify the growth of science and technology in basic and advanced fields, and promote the development of industries.
If nuclear power is developed, this will bring about economic efficiency and indirectly provide scientific and industrial potentials.
REPORTER: –From your point of view, is Vietnam eligible to build and operate nuclear power plants for economic purposes?
DR. TRAN CHI THANH: It is possible for Vietnam to develop, build and operate some popular types of nuclear power plants with medium capacity in the world today. Pressure Water Reactor 1,000-1,200 MWe can be seen as a feasible option.
However, in order to boost nuclear power, it is crucial to make a strategy of managing and continuing to improve the performances of existing human resources in the field of nuclear energy as soon as possible. If no policies and strategies come out soon, there will be a loss of nuclear-educated personnel as well as accumulated nuclear knowledge and experiences in Vietnam in 3-5 years. A great deal of effort needs to be devoted in this issue since manpower is the most significant factor for the success of nuclear power development.
Following that, we need to pay attention to building the infrastructure such as a methodical nuclear regulatory system and appropriate education and training system, re-preparing technical workforce, research infrastructure, leading experts, etc.
Regarding costs and finance, a large initial investment capital is apparently needed to deliver for nuclear power. However, in the present context, these barriers can be bypassed by seeking and arranging funding thanks to popular financing models in the world and nuclear sector.
Notably, in the near future, nuclear power technology based on water cooling method will still be dominant (as it is used by most reactors in operation at present and planned projects).
This method has been considerably studied, deeply understood and has gained sufficient scientific recognition. Meanwhile, small modular reactors (SMRs) employ liquid metal as a coolant, but there is insufficient research helping to shed the light on this technology or to enable to master it.
Therefore, in my view, SMRs should not be a choice for Vietnam situation right now when we have not been able to implement any nuclear power projects even based on pressure water technology which has become really common already. Considering and calculating nuclear power scenarios need particular attention, depending on national strategy.
The problem is how to make appropriate procedures and timeline for plan implementation, clarifying the sequence of plans, which comes first, which comes next…and when to take actions. The final goal is to introduce the best scenarios to meet development requirements of the country, in line with the worldwide trends.
REPORTER: –After the nuclear accident in Japan in 2011, many countries continue to develop and use nuclear energy. Can you tell us more about that?
DR. TRAN CHI THANH: It has been 9 years after the Fukushima accident in Japan and nuclear power is still continually moving forward around the world. Currently, Japan is rebuilding the Energy Strategy (expected to be issued in 2021), in which the main power sources include renewables, nuclear power and liquefied gas (the specific share of each source will be calculated and unveiled later). In addition, from now to 2030, Japan will close about 100 coal-fired thermal power units.
At present, other countries are operating more than 450 nuclear power units, contributing about 11% of the world’s total electricity output. In particular, China itself has nearly 50 nuclear power units, and by 2030 it is set to have more than 100 units, surpassing the USA, which has the largest number of nuclear power units in the world today.
India is also strongly developing nuclear power projects, including using VVER technology by Russia, AP1000 technology by the USA, and Make-in-India heavy water reactor technology after applying CANDU technology by Canada.
France has the highest proportion of nuclear power in the energy mix, which accounts for nearly 80% of the total national electricity output. The Russian Federation continues to build new reactors and implement many overseas projects…
It can be seen that the world’s nuclear power landscape has a little change. Nuclear power is still ramping up, especially in the universal fight against climate change.
REPORTER: –Thank you very much.
Interviewer: Luu Thuy, Investment and Finance, Sai Gon Giai Phong Newspaper
Translator: Pham Thi Thu Trang, Department of R&D Planning and Management, VINATOM