Cambodia mulls over atomic power

Cambodia is mulling over a nuclear power option to feed its anemic energy sector, although private sector pundits called the rough plan a dream – a dangerous one at that.

The government plans to use atomic energy in the future as oil, coal and biomass power sources were bound to be depleted, Suy Sem, Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy, told the National Assembly this week.

“We cannot avoid building nuclear power plants. It is the government’s target,” he said, without giving a specific time when a project might be launched.

Vietnam and Thailand have recently looked into nuclear power, Suy Sem noted.

Japan’s Fukushima crisis pushed Thailand’s project back by three years, Reuters reported last year. A nuclear reactor was originally scheduled to come on line in 2020 but will be delayed until 2023.

Vietnam announced this year that it would push along with the atomic energy plans it’s had since 1995.

Representatives from Cambodia’s private sector called the plans dangerous and politically risky.

“We should not consider it because it is very dangerous. We don’t have enough experts,” Nguon Meng Tech, director general for the Cambodia Chamber of Commerce, said yesterday.

“Moreover, later on we will get into some political problems such as those some are countries facing now … We’re still poor. We should not spend much money on this project. I think it is just a dream”

The International Atomic Energy Agency said nuclear power projects required longer than 100 years, as well as the resources to support the program throughout.

“It is therefore of the utmost importance to fully understand the long-term committments for a nuclear power programme before even considering a specific nuclear power plant project,” IAEA guidelines state.

The Cambodian government would also have to guarantee complete technical and institutional competence to carry out the project successfully, according to the guidelines.

As demand for energy rises in step with industry investment, Cambodia will need continued power infrastructure. But hydropower projects and power purchases from neighbouring countries should suffice, Nguon Meng Tech said.

Hiroshi Suzuki, chief executive and economist at the Business Research Institute for Cambodia, said a nuclear power program was viable but it would require a great increase in human resources if the country was to operate a plant.

Suzuki agreed with minister Suy Sem on the risks associated with reliance on fossil fuels.

“It is dangerous to relay on oil alone for energy because the price of oil fluctuates. It is very good to diversify the energy resources in a country,” he added.

About 68 per cent of Cambodian villages have access to power, according to Suy Sem.

The Kingdom generates about 300 megawatts of power but a shortage of up to 50 megawatts still causes blackouts in Phnom Penh during the dry season.

Cambodia imports about 45 per cent of its energy from neighbouring countries.

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