Nuclear companies jostle for Vietnamese reactor business

May 16th, 2008 - 10:41 am ICT by admin  

By Matt Steinglass
Hanoi, May 16 (DPA) A French nuclear power export consortium has made its case for Vietnam to turn to France for the two nuclear power plants it plans to build in the next decade as firms from five countries gathered at a nuclear power trade fair in Hanoi to promote their wares. “In contrast to certain large countries, we have never had a major nuclear accident with any consequences for the local population,” said France’s ambassador to Vietnam, Herve Bolot. “That’s an extremely strong argument.”

Companies from China, France, Japan, South Korea and Russia exhibited at the trade fair, hoping to build their corporate presence as Vietnam takes the initial steps toward selecting a partner for its nuclear power ambitions.

The country has declared it would build two nuclear power plants, each featuring two 1,000-megawatt reactors, with construction slated to begin in 2013 and power generation commencing by 2020.

Vietnam’s fast-growing economy is creating demand for electricity far in excess of current capacity. The country has total installed power-generating capacity of about 13 gigawatts but plans to more than double that to 33 gigawatts by 2015.

Vietnam’s National Assembly is set to pass a new law on nuclear power before the end of its current session in June, paving the way for a call for bids. Revenues for foreign companies could be huge: One newly constructed 1,650-megawatt nuclear plant, France’ Flamanville 3, cost 3.3 billion euros (5.1 billion dollars).

Nuclear power providers from Canada and the US have also expressed interest in Vietnam’s plans.

At a press conference at Hanoi’s French cultural centre, representatives of the French nuclear power industry said France, Vietnam’s former colonial ruler, has a uniquely integrated approach that treats nuclear power in the context of social, political and environmental needs. A new government agency, the French International Nuclear Energy Agency sends experts to collaborate with foreign governments on feasibility studies, safety concerns and other issues.

“We put together the ensemble of the expertise France has built up in recent decades for the benefit of countries who want to exploit nuclear power,” agency deputy director Philippe Pallier said.

A country might go on to place orders from French companies like nuclear power plant operator EDF or reactor builder AREVA, or it might order elsewhere.

In late May, EDF plans to co-host a seminar on “public acceptance of nuclear power” with the Vietnamese power company EVN for the local population in Ninh Thuan, the coastal province selected as the site of the first Vietnamese nuclear plant.

Bolot said the French approach was “to consult the population very early, so that they do not get the impression that in this area, which affects the social structure for a long time, a schema or a consensus is being imposed on them.”

Other countries contending for Vietnam’s nuclear business have more purely technological pitches.

Tomonori Ito of Toshiba’s nuclear energy division said Japan’s nuclear power industry was more privatised and less government-organised than France’s. He said the Japanese bid would involve a consortium of private companies, including Toshiba, Hitachi and Mitsubishi.

Tomonori said Japan’s comparative advantage was that, like France, it had continued building nuclear plants for the past 20 years while construction in countries like the United States halted. He said Japan could not compete on price with companies from China or Russia but had higher quality.

In Su Yang, a senior engineer at the Korean Power Engineering Co, said South Korea had been positioning itself by sending experts to support Vietnam’s initial feasibility studies for the plants. He said South Korea would be unable to underbid the Chinese nuclear power company China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group, which had one of the most impressive exhibitions at the trade fair.

The smallest booth at the fair belonged to the Russian atomic energy company Atomstroi. The company suffers from a poor reputation in Vietnam and elsewhere because of associations with the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

Pallier said many Russian nuclear plants had serious safety concerns and still used the graphite-cooled model employed at Chernobyl rather than more modern, high-pressure, water-cooled reactors.

But Atomstroi’s Natalia Gerasimova said it now built high-pressure, water-cooled reactors like everyone else.

“We don’t built graphite reactors anymore,” Gerasimova said. “Our expertise is in decommissioning graphite reactors. Britain is quite interested in that expertise.”

Gerasimova said Atomstroi’s advantage lay in having built more nuclear power plants in foreign countries for longer than any other country.

“We’ve built 48 reactors outside Russia,” she said. “The first one was in the former East Germany, and it was built, I believe, in the time of Jesus Christ.”

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