Mekong Utility Watch

Nuclear is not for Thailand

Bangkok Post
June 9, 1999

Letter to the Editor

As a Thai citizen, I was very upset upon reading the report in the Bangkok Post that CIDA has been funding nuclear education programmes in collaboration with the Atomic Energy of Canada (AECL) and the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (Egat).

CIDA’s good reputation is a result of its generous and friendly support for various kinds of projects which address major problems in Thai society. Many of the grassroots and advocacy organisations with their work on community forests, non-violent programmes, etc, have been initially funded by CIDA. Even the Office of Governmental Information has been partly supported in its efforts to organise seminars to increase awareness of the public’s right to official information.

As such, I cannot help but deplore the fact that CIDA’s funds, as much as one million dollars, have been diverted to support a very biased campaign in favour of nuclear power. The fact that a nuclear corporate like AECL is behind this campaign should caution us as to the neutrality of the information in the first place.

In the last few years, AECL has been making intense efforts to sell CANDU technology to foreign countries.  This technology has been proved a failure in many respects, financially and productively. The heavy subsidies by the Canadian government and the enactment of laws to limit liability as a result of nuclear accidents (which has helped sustain the nuclear corporate in recent years) attests to the fact.

People witnessed the safety flaws of this technology two years ago. In 1997, seven of the then 21 CANDU reactors were shut down due to safety reasons, as one government official described a “terrific list of mishaps and examples of sloppy mismanagement”.  The incidence, instead of hampering AECL’s efforts to export this outmoded technology for the sake of human safety, has intensified its efforts to sell it.

In late 1997, in a rush to close a deal to sell two CANDU reactors to the Chinese government, the Canadian cabinet waived normal procedures by calling an urgent meeting to endorse alterations to the Environmental Impact Assessment Act. The reason was a new law would relax the requirement for a comprehensive assessment before the installation of the reactors in foreign countries.

But this major law was not gazetted until one day after the signing of the contract with the Chinese government. As a result, the Sierra Club Canada is suing the Canadian government to force application of Canada’s environmental assessment laws to the sale of these reactors.

Another scary fact of this technology is its linkage to nuclear bombs. The reason that the Indian government succeeded in testing its first nuclear bomb in 1964 could possibly be traced back to its having received a research nuclear reactor as a donation from the Canadian government a decade earlier.

CANDU technology has been widely known to contribute to the development of nuclear bombs, as its wastes contain twice the amount of plutonium compared to the majority Light Water Reactors (LWRs). It is thus not surprising that most of the client countries that have ordered, or are about to order CANDU technology, are those called the new nuclear powers including Romania, Pakistan, India, North Korea, China and Argentina.

Lastly, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that the installation of a nuclear reactor requires a huge amount of investment. In the meantime, Egat remains the most indebted government enterprise. I cannot find a good reason for the government to pursue any project that might incur more major debts.

And why do we need a costly nuclear power plant when demand for energy has been rather stagnant or on the decline, and many countries have begun to phase out this technology? A case in point would be Germany, whose government has been actively setting a period for the final phase-out of nuclear energy.

In light of the economic setback and the global nuclear phase-out, there can be no reason for Thailand to go nuclear soon. Therefore, I would like to ask CIDA to suspend its financial support to this blatantly propagandist campaign of the outdated, militarily-linked and dangerous technology. Economically and environmentally, we deem that nuclear technology is not suitable for Thailand under any circumstances.  CIDA’s funds should be instead channelled to the promotion of well-rounded facts of this highly debatable issue. And ideally, they should be geared towards the exploration of more sustainable energy sources such as biomass, solar energy, wind energy, etc.

Pipob Udomittipong

Categories: Mekong Utility Watch

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