Friday, November 07, 2008

Lost in Translation: Vietnam Edition

vietnam_017 One of the dangers of snooping around the internet for interesting stories is that we have to hope the reporting is accurate. That's tough, because journalistic standards differ between countries and the press elsewhere often has a different role in society than what we're used to. Usually, the news sources we use are pretty reliable, but not always. If the initial story doesn't really pass the smell test or we can't confirm it, we just drop the story. (Sometimes, the smell can be pretty raw.)

For example:

Vietnam is set to build their first nuclear plants and have them running by 2020. Viet-Nam only began talking about nuclear energy in the last couple of years, so this seems an oddly premature announcement.

Well, we're not the only doubting Thomas':

Prof. Dr Tran Dinh Long, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Electricity Power Association, warned that building a nuclear power plant would require strict technical demands.
“It is not as easy as building a shoe-making factory. We cannot affirm that engineers who have studied for five years will be able to build a nuclear power plant. That’s why scientists must be very careful in selecting technology, equipment and suppliers.”

Or how about:

Vietnam has yet to even choose what technologies will be used for its first nuclear power plant.

Yet here's what they plan to do (according to the same story):

The final plan outlines building a plant on two sites, with four reactors (with a total capacity of 4000 MW), using two different technology models. [whenever they choose them, that is.]

Common sense seems to have evaded this story, yet, even coming from Iran, we're not sure the goal was to deceive.


So we looked around for some reports on this development and  found a few from Asian news sources. This one, from Malaysia, suggests that the Vietnamese are not moving quite as quickly as all that:

Vietnam is ready to make a decision to establish a nuclear power programme, following careful research, said Head of the Vietnam Atomic Energy Institute Vuong Huu Tan.

Vietnam news agency (VNA) reported that at a workshop on nuclear power, which took place in Hanoi on Friday, Tan affirmed that developing infrastructural facilities for a nuclear power programme needs to undergo three stages and that actually making the decision is the very first step.

Well, that seems more sensible.

But then there's this, from Thailand:

Vietnam is capable of operating nuclear power plants, and the plan to run its first nuclear reactor in 2020 is of great significance in the situation of power shortage.

A bit too up-with-Vietnam for our taste.


So, we don't know. Consider this one a work in progress. We'll see what IAEA has to say and look for some more pickup in the press. Right now, we're a little lost in translation.

Whenever we see pictures of Vietnam, we're always struck by how vibrantly green it is. It's like Asia's Ireland.


Anonymous said...

I am a Nuclear Engineer and went to Vietnam on a technical mission earlier this year. I met with the nuclear regulatory body in Hanoi (Vietnam Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety and Control - VARANSAC) as well as the Vietnam Atomic Energy Commission (VAEC).

Both organisations are keen to get moving on nuclear, but like many, must first develop their human resources. But this task is well underway. For example, I was in one meeting with maybe 20 Vietnamese technical staff. Of this group maybe two were the classic, silver haired nuclear experts. All the rest were quite young - definitely under 30. These younger engineers and scientists were very sharp academically, but lack the practical experience in projects / operation. They are looking hard to gain that experience through collaborative endeavours around the world (and they certainly are not alone in that effort - especially in Asia).

I have no doubt the Vietnamese are very serious about nuclear power.

Anonymous said...

I can second this. There has been high level exchanges with China on this already. The Vietnamese have already started to set up the regulatory/safety infrastructure as well as the R&D.

A lot of people don't know this but there has been a working R&D reactor in southern Vietnam, even as their civil war raged around it.

The Vietnamese are going s-l-o-w and that means they are v-e-r-y serious. You don't see, like in S. Africa, plans for "40 GWs" of atomic energy. No, you see plans to for basically two plants, both located in northern Vietnam. This makes sense. The Vietnamese will also work with anyone on this, *especially* the United States and China, their most natural allies in developing fission energy.