Nuclear safety, human resource, and the legal framework for the two Ninh Thuan nuclear power plants were discussed at the 9th national conference on nuclear science and technology in Ninh Thuan province yesterday.
An artist's impression of the Ninh Thuan 1 Nuclear Power Plant Photo: Tuoi Tre
Zones of faults a cause concerns
The previous geological studies for the Ninh Thuan nuclear project has missed three fault zones in Dinh Hai, Phuoc Dinh and Nui Chua areas in the province, where two nuclear power plants will be located. The first one, Ninh Thuan 1, will be built in 2014 and put into operation in 2020.
These fault zones are active and may cause earthquakes, directly affecting the future plants, Tran Tan Van, director of the Mineral Geological Science Institute, warned.
Additional research into the three fault zone should be conducted, he said, since earthquakes arising from the zones of fault may damage, even destroy, the plants.
Speaking at the conference, Prof. Tran Huu Phat, chairman of the Vietnam Atomic Energy Association, cited the opinion of a group of Russian experts as saying there are fault zones in the areas where the plants will be constructed.
To clarify the issue, there should be an assessment on the possible impacts of those zones on the construction of nuclear plants here. If they pose threats to the safety of the plants, the construction site has to be relocated elsewhere, Prof. Phat said.
While recognizing the need and importance of nuclear power in meeting the country’s electricity demand, Prof. Phat insisted that “we should not hurry … [and] can slow down or delay the construction to have more time for preparations. Lack of safety is the most dangerous thing and we should never trifle with nuclear power.”
Japanese and Vietnamese experts exchange opinions about the Ninh Thuan nuclear power project
Weak human resource
Meanwhile, Bogomil Machev, executing director of Bulgaria’s Risk Engineering, said human resource is the biggest challenge to Vietnam with respect to this nuclear project.
When work on the plant enters its peak, the project will need as many as 1,000 employees on constant standby at the construction site and will also require engineers with over 30 years’ experience to supervise the quality of construction work, Machev said.
Prof. Phat admitted that the country’s human resources are totally not up to the task of building a nuclear power plant.
The hiring of senior foreign consultants for the project will not effectively address this weakness, Prof. Phat said, because “if our head is ‘empty,’ we will not know what issues we need these consultants to help us with.”
It is reasonable that the National Assembly’s Committee for Science, Technology and Environment should directly supervise the project, but the committee must be adequately trained in nuclear technology so they can fulfill their expected duty, he said.
Meanwhile, Dinh Quang Hieu, representative of the project management unit, said the project has gathered 289 engineers, including 29 trained in Russia, 2 graduated in France, and 258 already completing short training courses in Vietnam and abroad.
The contruction locations for Ninh Thuan 1 and Ninh Thuan 2 nuclear power plants in Ninh Thuan province
Under prevailing regulations, the Prime Minister will approve the location for nuclear projects, while the Ministry of Science and Technology will grant construction permits and the Ministry of Industry and Trade will issue operation licenses.
Such regulations, however, go against the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) guidance, which recommends setting up one regulatory agency that assumes all the three said functions. This agency, IAEA advises, should possess all the technological expertise, human and financial resources needed to handle nuclear power issues.
After Vietnam issued the Law on Atomic Energy in 2008, IAEA and a number of countries with atomic energy have responded with generous feedback and suggestions about the law.
It depends too much on many other laws, such as the Law on Investment, Law on Construction, and Law on Environmental Protection, said Dr. Le Chi Dung, deputy head of the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Department under the Ministry of Science and Technology.
In addition, developing a legal framework for safe nuclear energy is a big challenge to Vietnam, as the country will have to draft hundreds of legal documents in the field of nuclear energy in several years to come. For example, 43 documents must be completed by 2013, Dr. Dung said.
And yet, so far, with the assistance of Japan and Russia over a period of two years, only one circular has been completed that provides guidelines on the evaluation of the safety of nuclear power plant site. At present, the Radiation and Nuclear Safety Department is in need of 60 experts to make safety assessments that form the basis for drafting nuclear safety regulations.
Japan has a complete legal framework in this field, but it was still reduced to confusion and chaos when coping with the nuclear reactor explosions at the Fukushima nuclear power plant in March 2011, he cautioned.