Is Thailand ready for Nuclear Power?

Alternative energy, has long been responsible for heroic roles since mankind has witnessed the first few consequential signs of the nature-abuse we have committed. However, unlike the wind or solar energy protagonists, nuclear power could never quite precede from the gray zone – if not deemed as a total villain. Many nations decided to advance with the technology yet this never-ending controversy leaves many others in a struggle. Thailand is among those skeptics who are about to make its first leap towards the nuclear power. But are we really ready for it?

A recent survey conducted by EGAT on the construction of nuclear power plants in Thailand assembled 64% of Thais agreed with the idea. The figure was cited as ‘good news’ that Thai people were more aware of the necessity of nuclear power. And just when the officials were about to hold the first meeting with local residents in Surat Thani to clarify the project plan, heavy opposition protest roared, demanding the plan to be immediately abolished. So according to the poll, people apparently want nuclear power but, ironically, not straight from their backyard.

The Chernobyl accident in 1986 imprinted many wounds and deaths in the history of mankind. Every mentioning of nuclear power could trigger fears among those who witnessed.

Nuclear Scientist from R&D Group, Thailand Institute of Nuclear Technology (TINT), Mr Roppon Picha, said in terms of technology Thailand is ready to have nuclear power plant. The know-how has been developed over decades that many countries like France or Belgium are certain enough to derive large proportion of their electricity from nuclear power. With all the strict regulations and standard procedure involved, the safety concerns like radiation, hazardous waste leakage, or explosions are very unlikely. The plant construction would be supervised by eligible experts and during which we still have time to plan, train, and develop human resources to handle the operations. The Chernobyl incident was a lesson that will never be repeated.

In addition to the safety concern, Mr Roppon explained that the high construction cost of the plant is a must as the safety standard cannot be afforded to compromise. However, the price would be compensated with the fuel cost as the starting material, uranium, is relatively cheap and does not fluctuate like oil price. In fact, fuel cost would account only 20% of nuclear-powered electricity price while it could be up to 45% for oil, and 90% for natural gases. When the zero-carbon-emission operation in a long run is taken into account, the expense is unquestionably worthwhile.

Exposure of radioactive waste is another issue to worry about as it contributes to lethal threats. Mr Roppon claimed that the amount of waste produced is relatively small and manageable. It is estimated that the size of the waste for a lifetime energy generation per person is smaller than a basketball. At present, it must be stored properly as specified by the standard practice and it is possible that the waste could become another fuel source in the future.

The nuclear power issue will continue to be a social debate until the authority could clarify pros and cons to the public. If the strategic decision has been made, the government should work on educating people on the subject as well as offering beneficial projects to the people in return. In the Republic of Korea for example, the government allows the community to make specific requests in exchange for building a nuclear power plant, bringing a better living to the villagers. It is the matter of approach in making Thai people understand and prepare for the nuclear age. (NNT)