Vietnam nuclear plant to use modern technology

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Workers repair electric wires in Hanoi. Vietnam's first nuclear power plant is scheduled to open by 2020

Vietnam's first nuclear power plant in the central Ninh Thuan Province with an expected capacity of 4,000 megawatts will be safe unlike the outdated one in Fukushima, Sergey A. Boyarkin of the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation (Rosatom), which has won the contract to build it, told reporters.

After the nuclear crisis in Japan, many people are concerned about the safety of nuclear power plants. Why should we believe that your technology for our nuclear power plant in Ninh Thuan will ensure safety?

Sergey A. Boyarkin: The Fukushima power plant used second-generation reactors. The system of cooling down the reactors, in urgent cases, uses electricity provided by diesel-fueled power generators. Thus, the system could not operate when the electricity was cut, raising the temperature and pressure in the reactors, causing combustion. The Fukushima plant's technology, designed in the 1960s, has become outdated.

We will use third-generation technology in the Ninh Thuan Province-based nuclear power plant. The technology allows isolating heated nuclear fuels, preventing their emission from the reactor.

If the technology had been used in the Fukushima power plant, the nuclear emission would not have happened.

There is a nuclear power firm saying that we have too much focus on technology. However, my view is that the project may cost more, but safety is absolutely ensured.

By using Russian technology, the safety of the nuclear power plant in Ninh Thuan will be guaranteed.

Are the geographical features of Ninh Thuan Province suitable for the construction of nuclear plants?

A survey for selecting the plant's site is being carried out. We want to select a safe site in the area allowed by the Vietnamese government. I think no problem could occur if we select Ninh Thuan for constructing the nuclear plant.

There is no area on earth which faces no risk of earthquakes. Ninh Thuan is the same. However, nuclear reactors designed by Russia can operate safely despite earthquakes.

We built a nuclear power plant in Armenia, which saw a magnitude 10 quake in 1988. The plant still operates, providing electricity to Armenia.

Our design for the nuclear power plant in Ninh Thuan could ensure safety during earthquakes.

What magnitude earthquakes and tsunamis can the Ninh Thuan plant withstand?

According to preliminary surveys, Ninh Thuan could face earthquakes of up to magnitude 7.5, while its nuclear power plant could withstand earthquakes of magnitude 9. We can ensure it is safe.

We are conducting surveys to find a site that is not prone to tsunamis. The site for the plant could be near the sea, but the turbines should be in areas not affected by tsunamis.

Current designs of nuclear power plants ensure that they operate normally even if they are inundated. Each turbine has four diesel generators that are encased in separate sites and operate independently.

Fukushima did not have enough power generators to ensure safety when hit by a tsunami. The electricity source is very important for a nuclear power plant. However, our project is designed to operate even when electricity supply is cut.

Incidents like Fukushima cannot happen to modern nuclear power plants.

How does the tropical weather in Vietnam affect the plant?

Russia has experience in building nuclear plants in different climate zones. When designing a plant, we consider the climate factor and use appropriate materials. We have experience in providing equipment to nuclear power plants to ensure that they operate safely for a long time.

What is the cost of the Ninh Thuan plant?

In Russia, a turbine costs US$2,700 per kilowatt. In Vietnam, the cost may be 10 percent higher due to transport costs. We are assessing the cost of the whole project, but it would not exceed $3,000 per kW. The price is quite competitive compared to those offered by other firms.

Thus, the total cost of the two-turbine plant will not exceed $6 billion. According to an agreement between the governments of Vietnam and Russia, the cost of the nuclear power project should not exceed $10 billion. However, it does not mean the construction will take up the whole investment. The money will also be used for the construction of infrastructure and some other related works. The money will be lent by Russia at a low interest rate.

What are the difficulties in implementing the project?

What takes the most time and effort is learning from each other's experiences. Vietnamese experts and students are going to Russia for training in the field, while we also learn a lot from the Vietnamese side. Now, 70 technicians from the Vietnam Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety are studying in Russia. Every year Russia will train 150 Vietnamese nuclear experts and students so that Vietnam will have 2,000 experts by 2018, enough to operate the plant.

The plant is expected to need 1,150 experts, including 300 nuclear experts, when it begins operation in 2020.

Vietnam also faces a shortage of legal documents spelling out regulations for the operation of nuclear power plants. Russia is helping Vietnam draft them.

The International Atomic Energy Agency will also help Vietnam with building a legal foundation. Our final goal is not to just build a nuclear power plant, but develop the nuclear electricity industry in Vietnam.

We will also participate in the construction of a center for science and nuclear technology in Vietnam that will house a test reactor, where Vietnamese experts could either study or research.

How is the progress of the Ninh Thuan plant?

The construction is expected to be completed in 2018. Then it will be tested for a year before becoming operational. Countries with experience in nuclear power development need only one or two months for the tests.

We will start to build infrastructure around the plant next year, and construct the plant in 2014. The plant is scheduled to begin operation by 2020.

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