Decision needed soon on nuclear power
Thailand is wise to pause its nuclear-power development programme in the aftermath of the disaster in Japan, but it should not stall for long, an energy expert says. As power demand soars, the country must decide quickly whether it will go for the nuclear option or switch to coal.
"Power demand will double in the next 12 years. If the government goes for nuclear power, it must make a decision now to pave the way for preparation. It is crucial to put this on the national agenda, to draw participation from all parties and raise public acceptance," said Pricha Karasuddhi, technical adviser for the Nuclear Power Programme Development Office. Speaking at "Save Our Planet Conference Series 2011" last week on the topic "Is Nuclear Energy a Viable Solution for Thailand", he said nuclear power was a crucial piece of the jigsaw to fulfil power demand. Thailand plans five nuclear power plants with combined capacity of 5,000 megawatts. The power would begin feeding into the system during 2020-28. More supply is necessary given the sharp increase in power demand. According to the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, daily demand for electricity hit 10 new peaks last year. The latest was registered on May 10, at 24,009MW - higher than the record of 22,044MW on April 24, 2009 - due to higher temperatures and economic recovery. Egat is worried about power blackouts or brownouts in the next 10 years when demand rises against a limited increase in new supply."This must be finalised by the next government," Pricha said. "If it clearly decides that nuclear power is definitely not wanted here, clean coal would be the best alternative despite some public resistance. Coal is cheaper than natural gas. Meanwhile, electricity from alternative sources would push up electricity costs and could also disrupt energy security" because of unstable supply.Under the Power Development Plan 2010, with the five nuclear plants, electricity generated by nuclear power would account for 10 per cent of the total, reducing reliance on natural gas. At present, electricity generated by natural gas accounts for 71.5 per cent, coal and lignite 18.4 per cent, hydropower 3.4 per cent, and others 0.4 per cent. As a nuclear power plant needs about 10-12 years' preparation, a decision must be made now. However, the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva has delayed the decision because of public resistance as well as the incident at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant.Pricha believes the situation in Japan could be attributed to the fact that the power plant was built with 40-year-old technology. Modern technology could prevent radiation leaks after earthquakes or tsunami. Moreover, Thailand could learn from Japan in planning preventive measures. "The issue is politicised. It's not the issue of technology or safety," he said. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the international body that helps countries around the world shape nuclear-power policies, many developing countries are seeking guidance given the rapid increase in power demand in the next few decades. Before the incident in Japan, more than 60 countries were inclined to invest in nuclear power, to ensure energy security, diversity in energy sources for electricity generation, environmental protection, and long-term stability of fuel prices.However, there are significant hurdles to introducing nuclear power in the developing world. It is an expensive, long-term commitment, with lead times of at least 10 years needed to set up the appropriate technical, regulatory and safety infrastructure. Plus, there is the issue of responsibility. "It's a 100-year-plus commitment, and you have to deal with long-term issues such as waste disposal and decommissioning," an IAEA expert said.