Thai, Vietnamese nuclear plans face delays
Southeast Asia's first nuclear power plants, planned in Vietnam and Thailand by 2020, may be delayed by at least eight years because of a shortage of skilled workers and cheaper coal production, according to Wood Mackenzie Ltd
The two countries will take longer to approve funding for nuclear plants compared with coal-fired ones, as well as to carry out safety measures, Graham Tyler, head of the southeast Asian gas and power division at Wood Mackenzie, an Edinburgh, Scotland-based energy consultant, said in an interview in Singapore. The first plants are likely to be delayed until 2028 at the earliest, he said.
"The key element is also the financing of these projects, which we feel will be delayed because it is going to be more expensive than coal," said Tyler. "It's not just about building a power station. You need to get trained engineers who can operate it, inspect it, make sure that it's safe."
Southeast Asia is seeking to diversify its energy sources as the region's natural gas fields mature and electricity consumption rises. Thailand intends to start operating its first two nuclear power plants from 2020 with a capacity of 1,000 megawatts each, the state power authority said last year. Vietnam plans to start two units in the south of the country in 2020 and wants to build a further 13 plants with a capacity of 16,000 megawatts by 2030, the government said in June.
Demand for electricity in Southeast Asia is forecast to increase 6 percent a year over the next two decades, according to Wood Mackenzie. Total capacity may climb to 308 gigawatts by 2030 from 108 gigawatts this year, Tyler said.
Thailand, which plans to put in a nuclear safety regulatory framework in the four years starting 2011, may not complete this step until 2026, according to Wood Mackenzie estimates.
Vietnam may not be able to afford paying "a premium" like the United Arab Emirates is doing to import experienced workers, and has yet to set up the training programmes that China and Russia have, Tyler said.
The U.A.E., whose economy was three times the size of Vietnam's last year, awarded a $18.6 billion contract last December to Korea Electric Power Corp. to build four nuclear plants by 2020.
"You can import talent, but you're going to have to pay a premium," said Tyler. "The U.A.E. is a lot richer than the countries in this region, and so they're buying it in. Southeast Asia might not be able to afford that."
The region will rely on coal power plants to meet its electricity needs as long as nuclear facilities remain unfeasible. About 35 percent of the region's power capacity will come from coal by 2030, while nuclear will make up just 2 percent, Tyler said.
Vietnam and Thailand will produce one-third of their electricity from coal in 2030 from 17 to 20 percent currently, Tyler said. Vietnam's gas-based power capacity will drop to 25 percent of its total generation from more than 40 percent in 2010, he said.
Bloomberg - November 22, 2010