Last week, Vietnam's ninth national conference on nuclear power wrapped up in the south central province of Ninh Thuan with local and international experts pointing out many factors that pose risks to the country's first atomic power plants scheduled to begin construction in 2014.
Human resources fall far short of the plant's requirements, and the legal bases for nuclear power development and maintenance in Vietnam are woefully insufficient as well, they pointed out.
It was said that up to 1,000 people, plus a team of experts with over 30 years' experience, would be needed to run the plant. But, at the moment, just 300 or so engineers were undertaking training courses locally and overseas, according to the plant's management board.
Meanwhile, the Vietnam Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety and Control is struggling to complete in time hundreds of documents on safety standards and regulations, said Le Chi Dung, deputy head of the agency.
This may pose risks to safety, because under pressure, it's very likely the agency would leave out several necessary measures, he said.
Besides, there are several loopholes in the way Vietnam built its atomic energy laws. For example, the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Industry and Trade, and the Ministry of Science and Technology share the job of licensing the plant, while it should be conducted by a single agency, Dung said.
Moreover, these are not the only challenges to Vietnam's efforts to build nuclear power plants for meeting the nation's increasing demand for electricity.
At the meeting, scientists pointed out that despite all the preparations that are going on for the project, seismic surveys so far have never mentioned fault lines that can lead to earthquakes at the plant's proposed site.
In fact, the two-day conference ended with the Ministry of Science and Technology ordering a fresh study on the plant's location.
Even when all the problems are solved, risks to the plant's safety are still there. Japan's Fukushima nuclear power plant was damaged badly in the Tohoku earthquake, although it was built by one of the world's most technologically advanced countries and with all considerations taken into account, including quakes and tsunamis.
Therefore, what matters is not just laws and technologies, but people's reactions when safety risks take place.
A Japanese nuclear expert attending the conference, Fumio Kudough, also stressed the need to develop a culture of safety and reactions to risks, which is a lesson for Japan after the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. He suggested Vietnam should also draw lessons from Japan's experience.
To build such a culture is a long-term project that all sections of society need to participate in. It cannot be done rapidly, least of all in Vietnam, where the education system has been criticized for long for not being practical and is still struggling to make needed adjustments.
It is said when you prepare well, you never go wrong. But, when you can't prepare well for this or that reason, it's okay to take a step back, especially when what you are planning concerns the lives of innumerous people in the country, the region and beyond.
It should be noted that since the Fukushima accident in March, many countries all over the world have reviewed their nuclear power plans. With plans to build eight nuclear plants by 2031, Vietnam can't afford to stay out of this "nuclear safety race."
However, as a greenhorn in this industry, Vietnam should hold back and wait for new standards to be set up in the world. In fact, Thailand, its neighbor, has already delayed all of its nuclear projects until after 2030.