Vietnam to proceed with nuclear power plants

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Vietnam's energy officials say that recent explosions at Japan's Fukushima plant will not affect the country's development of nuclear power plants.

At the moment, Japan is dealing with the world's worst nuclear incident since Chernobyl.

Emergency workers forced to retreat from the Fukushima plant when radiation levels soared prepared to return Wednesday night after emissions dropped to safer levels, AP reported.

For the past week, they have engaged in a desperate, low-tech struggle to prevent a full-blown nuclear meltdown just 217 kilometers from Tokyo.

The accident has caused some developed countries, including the United States, to abandon plans for nuclear power development.

However, at a Hanoi press conference Wednesday (March 16) called by Vietnam's Ministry of Science and Technology, officials and scientists pledged that any facilities built inside the country would include the latest safety features informed by the unfolding catastrophe in Japan.

"Vietnam is planning to build nuclear power plants," said Deputy Minister Le Dinh Tien. "Information and assessments of the blasts at the Fukushima No. 1 plant will act as a foundation to help Vietnam's relevant authorities appropriate nuclear power programs in the country."

Russia and Vietnam signed a multi-billion-dollar deal, in October, for the Southeast Asian country's first nuclear power plant in the south-central province of Ninh Thuan Vietnam and Japan plan to cooperate on two other nuclear reactors.

By 2031, Vietnam plans to put eight nuclear plants into operation.

Lessons learned

Dr. Vuong Huu Tan, head of the Vietnam Atomic Energy Commission, said several factors caused the explosions at Fukushima.

The explosions at the 1st and 3rd reactors were caused by hydrogen interacting with oxygen outside the reactor. The hydrogen was formed when the superheated and increasingly brittle metal fuel rod containers came in contact with sea water being poured over them to prevent a meltdown.

Tan said that another reason for the explosions was that the reactors weren't equipped with passive safety systems.

"The Fukushima No. 1 plant was designed to withstand major quakes and tsunamis," Tan said. "But its weak point is that the cooling system uses active safety features, which are backed up by power produced from diesel-run emergency generators."

The tsunami flooded the generator, preventing the cooling system from working. Tan said Vietnam's first nuclear plant would be designed with an automated cooling system.

Fool proof

"The Ninh Thuan nuclear power plant's modern reactors will be protected by a passive safety system," Tan said. "Therefore, the plant's cooling system can work naturally, without an human intervention or backup electricity."

He said as the Japanese plant was built in 1960s and 1970s when passive safety systems weren't available yet.

As for the Vietnamese nuclear power plant's ability to withstand an earthquake and tsunami, Dr Ngo Dang Nhan, director of the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Bureau, said that Vietnam's eight proposed nuclear plants will be built in areas that are not likely to be hit by such disasters.

Nevertheless, he said, experts and authorities will take necessary precautions.

Nhan also said that to ensure Vietnam's reactors are safe, human error must be taken into account.

 "If we don't have professional engineers and experts, it will be very tough in case of problems," he said. "We need a legal framework with strict operation and maintenance regulations to make the nuclear power plants safe."

Safety will be a priority for Vietnam as it pursues its nuclear program in cooperation with Japan and other countries, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Nguyen Phuong Nga said Wednesday.

"Vietnam will cooperate closely with Japan and its partners to create the best plan for building nuclear power plants... and at the same time ensuring nuclear safety and environmental protection," she said.

Vietnam unaffected by radioactive leaks

The Ministry of Science and Technology said Wednesday that Vietnam won't be affected by radioactive leaks following the explosions at Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant.

Dr. Dang Thanh Luong, deputy director of the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Bureau under the ministry, said Vietnam's air monitoring stations showed nothing unusual.

He also cited international meteorological experts as saying that the radioactive clouds produced by the compromised plant are heading North-East of Japan towards the sea and will definitely not head toward Vietnam.

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