Vietnam : going nuclear, with US help
Part poacher, part gamekeeper, Glyn Davies, the US permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency, flew to Hanoi this week to promote US nuclear technology while verifying that energy-hungry Vietnam has the appropriate safeguards in place to handle it.
The US is trying to catch up with Russia and Japan, which have stolen a march in the race to sell their nuclear technology to Vietnam by sealing deals with the Vietnamese government in October to help build two civil nuclear reactors each.
Like other rapidly developing nations, Vietnam has been unable to ramp up its energy infrastructure quickly enough to keep pace with growing demand. The government believes that nuclear power, as well as more hydro-electric and coal-fired power plants, will provide the solution to worsening power shortages in the medium term.
The US has been keen to get in on the act but progress has been held up by the fact that the American and Vietnamese governments must sign a nuclear cooperation pact, known as a Section 123 agreement, before American companies such as Westinghouse Electric can begin exporting their technology.
However, at a press briefing in Hanoi on Wednesday, Davies said that progress on the 123 agreement was “accelerating” and insisted that the US would not be squeezed out by the Russians and Japanese.
Vietnam is a big country. It will have large energy needs in the future. This is not a zero-sum game or some kind of mercantilist competition among nations. There will be plenty of room for any number of partners to work with a dynamic, forward-looking country like Vietnam in the future on the development of nuclear energy.
Of course we believe that the US has much to offer in this area and that’s why we’re so confident that we will move forward together with them rapidly on the 123 agreement.
Vietnam is not thought to have any desire to develop a nuclear weapon. Davies said he was encouraged by meetings with government officials and representatives from Vietnam’s nuclear safety body and had been reassured by visits to hospitals to see how the use of nuclear material is regulated in practice.
Vietnam has shown it is a very responsible player in the international system on the issues that matter most. In particular on the questions of safety, security and non-proliferation.
Although Vietnam has a rather shaky record when it comes to the protection of intellectual property, Michael Michalak, the US ambassador to Vietnam, said he was confident that Vietnam would be able to safeguard American energy companies’ IP if and when they set up nuclear reactors in the country.
There are going to be layers upon layers upon layers of security. And if you have ever tried to find out who is going to be elected the next chairman of the Communist Party, you know that the Vietnamese can keep a secret.
Perhaps, but post-Wikileaks the Vietnamese may wonder how safe it is to be sharing secrets with an American diplomat.
By Ben Bland - The Financial Times - December 9, 2010