USA and Vietnam agree to nuclear cooperation

31 March 2010

The USA has signed with Vietnam for increased cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy. Meanwhile, it has moved closer to opening nuclear trade with India with an agreement on nuclear fuel reprocessing.


America's memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Vietnam was signed in Hanoi yesterday by Le Dinh Tien, Vietnam's deputy minister of science and technology, and Michael Michalak, US Ambassador to the country.


USA-Vietnam March 2010 (VNA)

The scene in Hanoi (Image: VNA/Anh Tuan)


In a statement, the US Department of State said, "This MoU will open the door for increased cooperation in such areas as the development of human resources and safety and security infrastructure, access to reliable sources of nuclear fuel, and the management of radioactive waste and used fuel."


It added, "Vietnam has demonstrated its commitment to the responsible expansion of nuclear power through careful steps taken in cooperation with the United States, among other international partners, towards the development of the robust nuclear infrastructure needed to oversee the deployment of its first nuclear power plants over the coming decades."


Speaking at the signing ceremony, Michalak commented: "Pursuant to the MoU, the United States and Vietnam will continue our current efforts to develop the regulatory and physical infrastructure needed for a safe and secure Vietnamese civilian nuclear power sector. This MoU will facilitate our two nations cooperating in areas such as requirements for power reactor and fuel service arrangements, including the establishment of a reliable source of nuclear fuel for future Vietnamese civilian nuclear reactors, allowing Vietnam to rely upon international markets for nuclear fuel services." He noted that the signing of the MoU is "the culmination of many months of detailed negotiations, building on several years of ongoing cooperation."


Michalak added, "I anticipate that our signatures on the MoU will serve as a stepping stone towards negotiation of a legally binding government-to-government Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy Agreement, known as a Section 123 Agreement, which would allow even broader and deeper nuclear cooperation between our two countries and would facilitate the participation of the US companies in the Vietnamese nuclear sector."


Tien noted that Vietnam is "willing to cooperate with international partners in the field on the basis of respect to national independence, sovereignty and mutual benefits."


The USA and Vietnam have signed several agreements to boost nuclear cooperation over the past few years, including a 2007 agreement between the US Department of Energy's (DoE's) National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and Vietnam's Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) for cooperation and information exchange on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. A similar agreement was signed in 2008 between the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Vietnam Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety (Varans). The DoE and NRC have also provided technical assistance to Vietnamese drafters of the new Atomic Energy Law passed in June 2008.


In addition to the USA, Vietnam has signed nuclear cooperation and assistance agreements with countries including Japan, France, China, South Korea and Canada.


The Vietnamese government approved a nuclear power development plan in 2007, aiming for a 2000 MWe nuclear power plant to be online by 2020, and a general law on nuclear energy was passed in mid 2008. The plan calls for two reactors with a combined capacity of 2000 MWe to be constructed from 2014 at Phuoc Dinh in the southern Ninh Thuan province and come into operation from about 2020, followed by another 2000 MWe at Vinh Hai in the Ninh Hai district.


US-India reprocessing agreement


Meanwhile, the USA and India have completed negotiations on "arrangements and procedures" for reprocessing US-origin used nuclear fuel, according to the US Department of State. Negotiations on these arrangements and procedures began in July 2009. These arrangements, it said, "will enable Indian reprocessing of US-obligated nuclear material under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards."


"Completion of these arrangements will facilitate participation by US firms in India's rapidly expanding civil nuclear energy sector," the department said in a statement.


Following a 2005 agreement between the US and Indian heads of state on nuclear energy cooperation, the US Congress passed legislation in December 2006 to enable nuclear trade with India. Then in July 2007 a nuclear cooperation agreement with India was finalized, opening the way for India's participation in international commerce in nuclear fuel and equipment and requiring India to put most of the country's nuclear power reactors under IAEA safeguards. It would allow India to reprocess US-origin and other foreign-sourced nuclear fuel at a new national plant under IAEA safeguards. This would be used for fuel arising from those 14 reactors designated as unambiguously civilian and under full IAEA safeguards. After much delay in India's parliament, it then set up a new and comprehensive safeguards agreement with the IAEA, plus an Additional Protocol.


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News