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U-Tapao

Cabinet decision 'very disappointing'

Leading scientists and climate experts said yesterday that they were disappointed with the Cabinet's decision to take Nasa's request to use U-tapao to Parliament.

Thailand has lost a very good opportunity to learn some valuable information about weather conditions.

"By not making a decision now, you have killed the project, because it was meant to go into full swing by August," said Narisara Thongboon-choo, a lecturer at King Mongkut's Institute of Technology Lat Krabang.

"Nasa only has a month to put all the equipment in place for the project to be launched as scheduled. It will not be able to wait to hear from the Parliament, which will only resume its session on August 1."

Narisara has participated in two Nasa missions, one in Hong Kong and the other in the United States.

"It takes years to prepare for [such a] project, to invite more than 300 scientists and doctorate students to work on it," she explained. "How can everybody adjust their schedules if the project is postponed?"

She said her team had informed Nasa of the Cabinet's decision, but had not received a reply as of press time. She believes the US space agency will prefer to scrap the project instead of postponing it.

Asked whether the agency might move the project to Singapore, Narisara said: "I don't think so, because it is quite complicated and not easy to start anew."

Associate Professor Serm Janjai, from Silpakorn University's department of physics, explained that Nasa was planning to study weather in Thailand during the months of August and September because the conditions during this period are good for collecting aerosol samples.

The monsoon period in October will not be conducive to this research, he said. Hence if the Parliament were to approve the use of U-tapao in early August, there would not be enough time to conduct the study.

"The team needs at least a month to move all the equipment over and another three weeks to set it up," Serm explained. Like Narisara, he believes that Thailand has lost a very good opportunity.

"It's over. Thai scientists will not get another opportunity to work with an organisation like Nasa. Also, it will be difficult for agencies like Nasa to seek to collaborate with the government," he said.

Narisara said she could not understand why certain figures worked so hard to block this project.

"I don't know what is their intention - whether they really don't understand the project or intend to misrepresent it," she said. "Also, I would like to ask MPs from both the government and opposition benches if they would be able to come up with adequate funds for a project of this scale."

She said if Thailand loses this chance with Nasa, she will propose that the project be handed over to EarthTec. "It will require a little over Bt1 billion," she said.


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