The more things change"¦

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Shaken to the core by the havoc wreaked by the tsunami in March, in particular the massive nuclear disaster it spawned, Japan is making a major shift in its power strategy toward "environmental technology."

However, this is unlikely to affect its plans to export nuclear power technology to Vietnam, experts say.

"On the basis on a decision made by the cabinet in July, the [Japanese] Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry sent [Vietnamese] Deputy Prime Minister [Hoang Trung] Hai, a letter on August 11, which said that the Japanese government will continue to cooperate with Vietnam on constructing nuclear power plants with a high level of safety," said Satoru Tanaka, a nuclear expert at the University of Tokyo.

"This position of the Japanese government does not change because a new Minister of Foreign Affairs has taken over," he told Thanh Nien Weekly.

Japan's new Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba on Monday (September 5) said Japan will develop and promote new clean energy technologies after the nuclear crisis.

"We have bullet trains and water. From now on, there will be environmental technology," AFP quoted Gemba as saying, adding that this signaled a shift away from nuclear power, a technology the country has previously exported.

The minister, whose constituency Fukushima is at the center of the ongoing atomic crisis, said new developments would include state-of-the-art solar batteries that could replace nuclear reactors in the future.

"I'm sure it will be one of Japan's strongest fields. We will promote it through economic diplomacy," he said.

Last year, Japan reached an agreement with Vietnam to jointly build two nuclear reactors in the south-central province of Ninh Thuan as part of its "economic diplomacy" policy. The reactors are expected to be built in 2014.

"We will maintain (nuclear) technology, but I doubt it will be Japan's leading field of earnings in the future," Gemba said.

The surging waves triggered by the March 11 quake crippled backup cooling systems at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant, which led to reactor meltdowns, explosions and the release of radiation into the environment.

Despite the extreme dangers, however, Tanaka said both Japan and Vietnam need nuclear energy together with other energy resources to arrive at a "best mix," taking into consideration national energy security, energy geopolitics, energy resources, energy producing density and environmental protection.

"In an effort to diversify energy sources, Japan, a resource-scarce country, has placed as much importance on developing nuclear power as on developing new energy resources," he said. "We think that the same will be the case with Vietnam. Both countries share the situation that they cannot depend on a single energy source."

Joonhong Ahn, a nuclear expert at the University of California in Berkeley, shared similar views about Japan's plan to export nuclear technology to Vietnam as well as Vietnam's pursuit of nuclear energy.

"It can be said that Japan is heading toward gradual reduction of reliance on nuclear power, but its policy regarding the export of nuclear technologies is not clear. Japanese nuclear-reactor vendors are all internationalized companies"¦. Those companies will continue their nuclear business in global markets," he told Thanh Nien Weekly.

He said Vietnam needs to have well developed heavy industries, for which reliable and economical electricity supply is a must.

"I think that nuclear power is a very reasonable and logical choice for Vietnam," he said. "Vietnam should make its decision on objective technical facts, not on politician's remarks. To me, objective facts indicate that nuclear power is still a viable and great option."

Meanwhile, Vietnamese scientists have recently conducted research on tsunami and earthquake potentials near the sites currently approved for the nuclear reactors.

At a conference on earthquake and tsunami threats and early warning systems in the Asia Pacific region held on September 5-6 by the Hanoi-based Institute of Geophysics, scientists said Vietnam faces a "relatively high" threat of earthquakes although it is not located on the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Vietnam has suffered from strong earthquakes at 6.8 Richter degrees along long fault lines, which run along the Red River, Chay River, Son La and Ma River.

Le Huy Minh, deputy director of the Institute of Geophysics, said scientists have pointed out several earthquake-prone areas that could trigger tsunamis off the Vietnamese coast, led by the Manila Trench.

"There was an 8.2 degree earthquake in this region in 2006 but it didn't cause a tsunami," he said.

"Tsunami risks exist along Vietnam's central coast and should be taken into account," he said.

Nguyen Hong Phuong, deputy director of the Earthquake and Tsunami Warning Center, said the nuclear plant project in Ninh Thuan should be designed to withstand at least one Richter degree higher than the strongest earthquake that could hit the region.

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