Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Global Nuclear News: Vietnam, Algeria, Iran

Floating_Globe Vietnam is making determined steps toward joining the nuclear family:

The Vietnam Nuclear Energy Institute and the US’ Westinghouse Power Company last week introduced AP 1000 nuclear power technology at a workshop in Hanoi.

The Vietnamese are starting almost from scratch, but are moving faster than looking at a presentation might indicate:

Faced with threats of power shortages and the increasing prices of coal and oil, the Vietnamese government agreed to speed up and double the scale of the first nuclear power plant project in Ninh Thuan province from 2,000 to 4,000 MW.

Here is Director of VNEI Vuong Huu Tan on the schedule:

If the investment report is approved by the National Assembly this May, we will make the investment project. This process may take two years. After that we will seek international tenders or choose contractors to ensure that the construction will start in 2015. The government plans to put the first turbine into operation in 2020 and we will adhere to this plan.

That’s impressively ambitious. (VNEI and NEI would probably enjoy each other’s company but are otherwise unrelated.)

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Now, here’s a country we haven’t covered here before:

Algeria aims to build its first commercial nuclear power station around 2020 and would build another every five years after that, Energy and Mines Minister Chakib Khelil said on Tuesday.

As with Vietnam, Algeria has to get the structure to do this in place:

Khelil said a law would soon be debated by Parliament for the creation of an atomic safety agency and a company to develop nuclear energy.

But they’ve made pacts with all the usual players – the United States, France, with Russia, as usual, in the wings – and some not all that usual – Argentina and South Africa. But this isn’t a case of all nuclear all the way:

Khelil said the government wanted to give a lot more importance to solar energy and was aiming for 15 percent of Algeria's electricity to be generated from renewable sources including solar and wind by 2025-2030.

Did we mention ambition above? Double it here. With a population of about 33 million, Algeria could become a power powerhouse in its part of the world.

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And where would a nuclear-energy-around-the-world roundup be without Iran?:

Iran's first nuclear power plant will undergo a critical series of tests starting Wednesday before full-scale operation begins later this year, Iranian state radio reported Sunday.

Although the Bushehr plant itself shouldn’t cause too much trepidation – Russia built it, is heavily involved in testing it and switching it on, and really doesn’t want to goof up its place in the global nuclear marketplace - Iran’s a different story. We’ve noted before that the IAEA is trying to keep fears at bay and it does so again in this context:

"Iran is cooperating well with U.N. nuclear inspectors to help ensure it does not again understate the amount of uranium it has enriched," the agency said.

Well, that certainly sends confidence way up, doesn’t it? But Iran would have to make some provocative moves to get into the bomb-building business:

Defenders say that to weaponize its program, Iran would have to take steps such as withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, kicking out international inspectors, breaking U.N. seals on batches of uranium and shutting down dozens of U.N. cameras that monitor nuclear sites across the country.

So there’s that. We have no particular brief here – we bow to the IAEA on these issues – but do not dispute that Iran’s aggressive rhetoric and actions in its region raise warning flags.

Looks like a vision of how the world stayed afloat from another age. Hopefully, the plug didn’t leech energy from the heaven next door.

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