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Tuesday, June 17, 2008

ASEAN+3 nuclear safety forum kicks off in Bangkok

BANGKOK, (Xinhua) -- Experts and officials on nuclear energy safety from the 10 ASEAN countries and its three regional partners -- China, Japan and South Korea, gathered here Monday to convene the first ASEAN+3 Forum on Nuclear Energy Safety.

The two-day forum, the idea of which was initiated by Thailand at last November's East Asia Summit in Singapore, was co-hosted by Thailand and China. It is to provide an academic platform for exchanging experience and technologies in a bid to promote regional cooperation on nuclear safety issue.

At the opening ceremony on Monday, Thai Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama noted that the ASEAN+3 framework was established in 1997 to respond to the Asian financial crisis, and now it can play a role to cope with a new crisis, which is "no less significant, no less urgent" than the 1997 financial crisis, -- the challenge of long-term energy security in the wake of skyrocketing oil prices.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) groups Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Brunei, the Philippines and Singapore.

In face of rising oil price, which has increased over 100 percent in about one year to the current level of 135 U.S. dollars a barrel, countries, especially developing ones which are "too reliant on oil and thus too vulnerable to the unprecedented oil price shock", are looking at alternative sources of energy, particularly those renewable, sustainable, and clean, Noppadon said.

Nuclear energy is one of these sources of energy that many countries, including those in Southeast Asia, have growing interest in exploring.

To address public concern about nuclear safety, a critical issue to the development of nuclear energy, Thailand and other ASEAN countries have agreed on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-free Zone Treaty. A Plan of Action adopted last year calls for the establishment of a regional nuclear safety regime.

Noppadon also noted that the forum is fitting and timely as theASEAN+3 process comprises both countries that have great expertise in nuclear technology for peaceful purposes -- referring to China, Japan and South Korea, and countries that are in great need of such technology -- the ASEAN countries, while all countries under the framework share the political will to enhance greater regional cooperation on energy security.

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), among ASEAN countries, governments in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia have already launched plans for building their first nuclear power plants.

The Thai government has planned to build nuclear power plants with a total generating capacity of 4,000 MWs in 13 years from now, with the first plant put in operation in the year 2020, accounting for about 10 percent of total power generation.

Panels have been set up to conduct a detailed study of the project from 2008 to 2010, after which a final decision will be made whether to implement the nuclear program based on assessment of Thai public opinion.

Wang Zhongtang, Assistant Administrator of National Nuclear Safety Administration of China, in delivering a keynote speech at the opening, said China has obtained experience on design, manufacturing, construction and operation of nuclear power plants in over 20 years of efforts since it started the construction of its first nuclear power plant.

The Chinese government has launched a nuclear power development program -- by 2020, a 58-GW total capacity of nuclear power will be in operation or under construction, accounting for 4 percent of the general power capacity of China. Now China has 11 units in operation and eight units under construction, with a total capacity of about 16 GWs.

Wang told Xinhua that China is very willing to share its experience and technologies with any ASEAN countries on nuclear energy safety, as it believes that "there is no national boundaries as regards nuclear safety," and that enhancing cooperation on the issue is of benefit to countries involved, to the region as well as the whole human society.

Among its experiences, China believes that "a strong independent nuclear safety authority is vital, a systematic legal system is fundamental, prudent and scientific assessment and review mechanism is important; the environmental impact monitoring system is also the key elements to convince the public confidence."

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