Mekong Utility Watch

Canada grooms Nuke Kids in Asia

Southeast Asia Post
May 28, 1998
Canada is spending millions of tax-dollars to influence Thai schoolchildren that nuclear power is good for the cash-strapped Southeast Asian country.

The pilot program in 250 Bangkok area secondary schools has triggered criticism from anti-nuclear groups, environmentalists and social activists in Canada and Thailand.

A report on the program said that the school children were chosen because of their “ability to influence their peers, family members and others in their community,”

It said: “This target audience was selected in part because they will be directly affected by the expected introduction of nuclear power in Thailand over the next ten years.”

Officials told the Southeast Asia Post that the program is to be expanded nationwide and is also likely to be implemented in Vietnam, the Philippines and Indonesia.

The educational program is a joint-venture between the prestigious Chulalongkorn University’s engineering faculty and the Canadian government-owned Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL).

Tax dollars from Canada to the tune of about C$3 million has so far been pumped into the program, which was launched and run by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT).

Keith Bradley, vice-president of AECL operations in Asia-Pacific said his crown corporation has provided a consultant from Regina and prominent Canadian nuclear academic George Bereznai to prepare materials for the program.

The bulk of the grant is from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) through a project called the Thai-Canadian Nuclear Human Resources Development (HRD) Linkage.

AECL is actively pushing it’s Candu nuclear reactors in Thailand but Bradley said anyone who called the program “propaganda” is misinformed and has not seen the text of the material.

“We had to be quite scrupulous to separate our marketing and education efforts,” he said.

“Our part quite clearly is to educate Thai citizens to understand nuclear power so they can make informed decisions.”

He admitted that the issue of public acceptance is the primary obstacle AECL faced in many countries.

“Some people are out to destroy the (nuclear) industry and will give anything a spin,” he said, stressing the program was a Thai initiative.

Critics said the education program is nothing more than an effort by AECL to build a support base in Thailand.

Grannie Ryder, Probe International’s director of the Mekong Region program, said CIDA has a history of not telling taxpayers where their money is being spent.

“This is tax dollars being used for a technology that is on it’s way out..It’s tax dollars for propaganda,” she said.

Ryder said the Thai anti-nuclear movement is being joined by Buddhist monks and social activists because they know that there are alternative, cheaper and safer fuel generating options available for the country.

She said the educational program is meant to build a constituency of support to counter the growing anti-nuclear program.

“But Thailand has a whole range of groups that is ready to fight this.” The Thai government has set up a parliamentary committee to study nuclear-power options and AECL is trying to beat out the competition from France and Japan, she added.

A regional economist said the push by Ottawa to sell AECL-built Candu reactors to Thailand with technical assistance and grants may not bear fruit because of the opposition, the currency crunch and a surplus of power in the country.

The country’s need for new sources of electricity has slowed down with the Asian crisis. Power demand, once expected to grow at 7 per cent annually for the next 10 years, is slowing dramatically, he said.

Thailand’s national utility corporation (Egat) has also already committed itself to buying electricity from seven new Independent Power Producers (IPP) inside the country.

“They don’t need and can’t afford nuclear power now,” said the economist.

Dave Martin of the Campaign For Nuclear Phaseout, a coalition of anti-nuclear groups in Canada with international links, said Ottawa is hypocritical in criticizing India while pushing it’s reactors around the world.

“The very scarce development dollars in Canada is being pumped into Thailand as a marketing tool,” he said.

“On one hand Canada sanctions India and frowns on nuclear weapons proliferation and on the other we push nuclear technology and provide reactors that ultimately may be used for war,” he said.

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