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ASEAN agrees to set up nuclear energy safety network

by Staff Writers
Singapore (AFP) Aug 23, 2007
Southeast Asian countries agreed Thursday to establish a regional nuclear energy safety network, amid warnings from environmental activists that the risks of atomic power outweigh the benefits.

Energy ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) tasked senior officials to work out the details of the ASEAN Nuclear Energy Safety Sub-Sector Network, they said at the end of a one-day meeting here.

The officials are to report on their progress before the next meeting of the 10-member bloc's energy ministers in Thailand next year, a joint statement said.

As the ministers launched into talks, the global environmental watchdog Greenpeace urged them to drop plans to generate civilian nuclear power across the reion, citing safety concerns and the risk of weapons proliferation.

Three ASEAN member states -- Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam -- have so far announced plans to build nuclear power plants by 2020 in a bid to cut their dependence on crude oil and natural gas, sparking concerns over safeguards.

"We say this is a very dangerous pathway if it is followed," said Nur Hidayati, a climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia.

"We say this is not a solution because it creates more problems and it will last a long time."

But Thai Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand defended the decision by some ASEAN states to develop nuclear power capabilities, stressing the plants are generally safe and do not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

He said civilian use of nuclear power was making a resurgence worldwide, with 30 new plants under construction.

The three ASEAN countries planning to build plants will "spend a certain amount of time making preparations" to ensure safety standards, the Thai minister said.

"Nuclear technology is actually safe, very safe as shown by the various incidents... Nuclear power plants are the safest kinds of buildings built on Earth," he told a news conference.

Thailand is planning to build a 4,000-megawatt plant by 2020.

Kurujit Nakornthap, Thailand's deputy permanent secretary of energy, told a forum here Wednesday that Bangkok needs until 2014 to develop safety standards, establish the regulatory framework and train the necessary personnel.

It will need another six years to build the plant.

Piyasvasti said it was unfair to say that nuclear plants were unsafe based on the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl reactor in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union.

"Chernobyl was a bad design, badly operated and (used) outdated Soviet technology which is no longer in operation anywhere in the world," he said.

But Greenpeace activists insisted the region does not have the expertise and the personnel to operate nuclear power plants and store radioactive waste, warning of the possible danger should plutonium get into the wrong hands.

Plutonium is a key ingredient for the making of a nuclear bomb.

During their annual meeting in Manila last month, ASEAN foreign ministers discussed how they could strengthen rules to ensure that civilian atomic energy is not used for non-peaceful ends.

With the region prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, it was doubtful if ASEAN members had the capability to deal with a nuclear plant leak, it said.

ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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German gov't, energy companies agree to improve nuclear safety
Berlin (AFP) Aug 23, 2007
The German government and four companies operating nuclear power plants in the country on Thursday agreed they would tighten safety measures, a month after two incidents sparked a national outcry.







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