Vietnam maps nuclear plan amid severe blackouts

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Power shortages prompt farmers to rise up against energy company in Thai Binh Province

People relax in an alley of Hanoi's Kham Thien Market Street to avoid being indoors due to recent hot weather and regular power cuts. Vietnam has planned to build eight nuclear power plants to satisfy increasing demand and reduce shortages due to diminishing water supplies at hydropower reservoirs in the dry season.

Power-hungry Vietnam will build eight nuclear power plants and gradually make them a major energy source as a nationwide power shortage looms and hydropower reservoirs dry out because of a lingering drought.

The first reactor, with a capacity of 1,000 megawatts, will be in operation by 2020 and the total nuclear power supply is expected to increase to 8,000 megawatts by 2025, according to a government statement released on June 22 about a plan on zoning nuclear plants in Vietnam, approved by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

By 2030, the reactors will generate a total of 15,000 megawatts to meet 10 percent of the country's demand, it said.

Each of the eight nuclear plants, including two approved last year by the National Assembly, will be built in five central provinces, including Ninh Thuan, Binh Dinh, Phu Yen, Ha Tinh and Quang Ngai. Each plant will have between four and six reactors.

Relevant agencies will finish approving investment projects, locations and constructors by 2015 and Vietnam is expected to have mastered the methods needed to design nuclear power plants by 2030. Local investors will be responsible for providing 30-40 percent of construction packages.

Until then, the country will suffer from a severe power shortage due to an increase in demand and a harsh dry season, with the latest hot spell characterized by temperatures in Hanoi nearing 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

State-owned monopoly power supplier Electricity of Vietnam (EVN) has had to cut power regularly and in turns at different localities throughout the country over the past months despite several thermo power plants operating at their maximum capacity while hydropower plants reduce their supply due to lowering water levels at reservoirs.

Less supply, more demand

Nguyen Lan Chau, vice director of the National Center for Hydro-meteorological Forecasting, said there have not been any small floods that usually come at the end of the dry season in late May and water levels in hydropower reservoirs in the north have been much lower than previous years and are nearly at the point where levels are so low that water cannot flow over the turbines.

"The hydropower plants are expected to operate at full capacity when it has been raining for three consecutive days and where the water levels increase by 5,000 to 6,000 cubic meters per second," she added.

Ho Manh Tuan, a senior official at EVN, said hydropower plants have operated at low capacity to keep water levels above the minimum level needed to operate the turbines.

Meanwhile, several thermal power plants have operated at their maximum capacity in a relentless effort to ease the increasing shortage. Pha Lai and Phu My thermal power plants skipped scheduled maintenance checks to stay in operation.

Some plants meant to ease the dry season's power shortage have broken down, including one compartment of Quang Ninh thermal power plant in the northern eponymous province that broke down soon after beginning operations. Son Dong power plant in Bac Giang Province was still under construction well after its supposed deadline for completion.

EVN said it had to buy up to 14.5 million kilowatts per day from China but even then, it still couldn't alleviate the recent power shortage.

HCMC Power Company said the city consumes around 44.6 million kWh every day, 1.1 million kWh per day over the limit set by EVN. Many areas in the city are suffering power cuts two days a week.

Power demand has also increased in Hanoi to up to 40 million kWh per day in June and over 30 million kWh per day in May. Electricity of Hanoi said there was an increase in household demand due to the hot spell.

For the first five months of the year Vietnam had a shortage of two billion kilowatt-hours, said Quan Duc Hai of EVN's National Load Dispatch Center.

Vietnam's economic growth has exceeded five percent annually for the past decade. The resulting electricity demand stems not only from industry but from increasingly well-off households buying and using appliances.

Angry consumers

Hundreds of farmers in northern Vietnam have staged protests against prolonged power cuts, according to media reports on June 22.

Farmers in Quynh Hoi Commune in Thai Binh Province's Quynh Phu District forced their commune leaders to accompany them to the local offices of Vietnam's power company to complain that they had been victims of unfair power cuts without being given prior notice.

The farmers forced some power company workers to sit in the hot sun while they shut others up in a house with closed windows and no electricity to protest against the power cuts. Some people cut the power line to the house of the district's head.

They said they need electricity for fans in the hot spell and to watch the World Cup but the local electricity company have cut supply without notice, while some clients still had electricity after paying for another line.

Foreign businesses have expressed concern about a lack of energy and other infrastructure in Vietnam, AFP reported on June 22.

"Consumption of electricity keeps on growing by 15 percent annually, thereby substantially surpassing the economic growth rates," the European Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam wrote last month.

Cao Sy Kiem, chairman of the Vietnamese Association of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, said the agency will announce estimated losses suffered by its members due to power cuts by the end of this month.

He also said the government should have regulations that require the electricity company to compensate for customers' losses due to excessive power cuts and there should be other investors in electricity other than EVN.

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