Russia hocks reactors to Vietnam with no waste plan in sight

Publish date: October 31, 2010

Written by: Charles Digges

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has met in Hanoi with Vietnamese leaders to seal a $5 billion agreement to build the Southeast Asian country’s first nuclear power plant, among other nuclear deals, international news agencies reported.

Medvedev, who was in attendance at the Southeast Asian Nation’s leaders summit in Hanoi told a press conference broadcast on Russian national television that, “If we reach the goals we have set, this power plant will account for a great share of Vietnam’s energy market and will allow it to develop as a modern state that not only produces and processes oil, but also uses other energy sources, which is very important in today’s world.”

Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet also praised the agreement.

“Today’s signing of an agreement on the construction of an atomic power plant in Vietnam demonstrates the special ties we have with Russia, and of course the deal indicates the confidence that Vietnam has in Russia’s technology,” he said.

Under the pact, Russia will initially build two power units in Vietnam, each with a capacity of 1.2 gigawatts each.

Vietnam says it has plans to build eight nuclear power plants in five provinces within the next 20 years. The plants would have a total capacity of 15 gigawatts, which would account for about 10 percent of all electricity produced in the country.

But neither country has announced possible storage schemes for the waste and spent fuel the new reactors will account for.

With the pact, Russia adds Vietnam to China, India and Iran as customers of its aggressive international marketing plan. Indonesia has, meanwhile, expressed interest in acquiring on of the Russian nuclear industry’s newest and most dangerous novelties – a floating nuclear power plant, though details are not yet final.

Emboldened by the weak outcome of last year’s UNFCCC climate talks in Copenhagen – and equally buttressed by low expectations for coming climate negotiations in Cancun this December – Russia has been able to capitalize on a world wide shift in priority to nuclear power as a carbon free energy source.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has meanwhile called alternative energy goals, at least for Russia, a pipe dream, and endorsed the progress of nuclear power.

But, like other nations such as Britain, France and the United States that are pitching nuclear build outs as a parachute out of the climate crisis, Russia is failing to take into account that nuclear power plants can hardly be built in time to curb world wide temperature change.

Nuclear power, say many environmentalists, can only compound two problems – temperature spikes and even more excessive amounts of nuclear waste worldwide. And though the international nuclear industry would like to count on deep geologic internment of nuclear waste as a safe storage option, only one country in the world – Finland – is pursuing work on such repositories.

Sweden had been running a similar programme until earlier this year when public opinion in the community surrounding a proposed internment site flagged.

The deal between Russia and Vietnam represents a thaw in a long chill between the nations.

Moscow State University of International Relations Asian expert Dmitry Streltsov analyzed the pact on Rusisa’s state-run English language channel, RussiaToday.

“The agreement was struck in sharp competition with other countries, and the fact that Vietnam preferred Russia shows that there is a revival of a sort of trust relations between our two countries,” said Streltsov.

But Streltsov says that perfect relations between the two countries are not immediate just because of the new deal.

“I do not think that one could say that Russia’s revival is fact. Now it is premature to say that,” he said. “It is a long way ahead.”

Russia has been trying bolster economic cooperation with Vietnam in recent years. The county was the site of a cold-war showdown with the United States and at one time boasted the Soviet Union’s biggest naval base abroad.