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Cablegate: Thailand Makes Plans for Nuclear Power

VZCZCXRO2700
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHBK #5154/01 2732357
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 302357Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 9891
RHMCSUU/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 4155

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 005154

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SENSITIVE
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STATE FOR EAP/MLS AND EB,
COMMERCE FOR EAP/MAC/OKSA

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON ENRG EPET KNNP TH SENV TSPL TRGY
SUBJECT: THAILAND MAKES PLANS FOR NUCLEAR POWER

BANGKOK 00005154 001.2 OF 002


1. Summary. With increasing energy demand and dwindling domestic
natural gas reserves, Thailand will face energy shortages unless new
sources are developed. The RTG's long-term energy policy strategy
calls for nuclear energy to play a significant role, with plans to
have 4000 MW of generating capacity online by 2021. This would be
the RTG's first foray into nuclear power generation. Consultations
with the IAEA are already underway. Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont
has come out publicly in support of nuclear energy. King Bhumiphol
has called for the RTG to make careful preparations for constructing
a nuclear power plant. Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand said that
nuclear is the only viable long term energy solution for
Thailand. End summary.

NOW, ONE SMALL RESEARCH REACTOR AND ANOTHER IN
ARBITRATION...

2. Thailand has operated one tiny two megawatt research reactor for
over 30 years. Too small to generate electricity, this reactor is
used to produce isotopes for use in medicine and food irradiation.

3. (SBU) In 1997, the Office of Atoms for Peace (OAP) signed a THB
3.3 billion (USD 133 million at the exchange rate at the time)
contract with General Atomics (GA), a San
Diego-based unit of General Dynamics, to build a ten megawatt
research reactor. After ten years of protests and administrative
delays, the project is nowhere near completion. Last year the
Ministry of Science ordered OAP to halt work on the project. Now GA
and OAP are reportedly involved in arbitration. According to Dr.
Somporn Chongkum,
Executive Director of the Thailand Institute of Nuclear
Technology, GA failed in its attempt to obtain licensing from the
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission because it had not previously
built a reactor of that size.

.. .BUT BY 2021, FOUR REACTORS AND 4000 MEGAWATTS...

4. Recently, Dr. Kopr Kritayakirana, Chairman of the
Nuclear Power Infrastructure Preparation Committee (NPIPC) and
Advisor to the Minister of Science and Technology assembled a panel
of technical and policy experts to brief
econoffs. Kopr explained that Thailand first considered nuclear
energy in the mid 1970s but then abandoned the idea when huge
natural gas reserves were found in the Gulf of
Thailand. In the mid 1990s after a decade of strong economic growth,
Thailand again began plans to build a nuclear reactor but abandoned
the idea in the wake of the 1997 financial crisis.

5. Natural gas presently generates 66 percent of Thailand's
electricity, but domestic reserves are declining. The
National Energy Policy Commission (NEPC) outlined three scenarios
based on high, medium, and low rates of economic growth. Even the
low scenario forecasts peak electricity demand to double from 22,311
megawatts in 2007 to 45,031 megawatts in 2021, far exceeding present
capacity. The
NEPC envisages a significant role for nuclear energy to make up the
shortfall.

6. Illustrative of the direction the current government plans to
take, when Energy Minister Piyasvasti delivered the keynote speech
at a recent "High-level Forum on
Lao-Thai Partnership in Sustainable Hydropower
Development," he barely mentioned hydropower but spoke at length
about Thailand's nuclear plans. Piyasvasti stated unequivocally,
"Nuclear is the only sensible solution to global energy demand."
Then he underscored his view that in the long run, nuclear energy is
the only sustainable, cost-effective source of energy that will not
exacerbate the problem of global warming. Prime Minister Surayud
Chulanont recently came out in support of Thailand's plans for
nuclear power. In a recent speech at a gathering of Thai
ambassadors, King Bhumiphol also called for the RTG to proceed with
careful preparations for nuclear power.

7. EGAT and the Ministry of Energy (MOEN) recommend that by
2021, nuclear power should provide nine percent of Thailand's
electricity. The NPIPC will present its final recommendation by
2014. If the plan is approved, EGAT will begin construction on the
first of four 1000 megawatt reactors shortly thereafter. The first
two are expected to come online in 2020 and the second two in 2021.
Planning is still in the preliminary phase so EGAT will not likely
open any contracts to bidding for several more years. American,
Asian, and European firms have already started to position
themselves.

8. Kopr recently led a Thai delegation to Vienna for consultations
at the IAEA about moving forward with plans to build nuclear
reactors. A team from the IAEA then visited Thailand for further

BANGKOK 00005154 002.2 OF 002


consultations. Speaking at the Sixth Congress of Science and
Technology in Bangkok this past July, Dr. Mohamed El Baradei,
Director General of the IAEA, characterized nuclear energy as an
"engine for development" and encouraged Thailand to continue to work
closely with the IAEA as it proceeds with its plans to construct
nuclear reactors.

.. .IF THAILAND CAN OVERCOME NIMBY AND FIND ENOUGH NUCLEAR
ENGINEERS. . .

9. As is often the case when new power plants of any stripe are
built, a nuclear power plant will likely face "NIMBY" sentiment and
opposition from environmental groups.
Earlier this year, an industry and government energy policy and
strategy meeting had to be moved from a hotel to an
Army club due to security concerns involving anti-nuclear
protesters. Somporn said that currently his office is working to
improve public awareness of the benefits of nuclear power and the
many uses of the research reactor, such as creation of medical
isotopes, irradiation of fresh produce, and changing the colors of
gemstones and flowers. Many private sector analysts, however, are
skeptical that the RTG can overcome "NIMBY" to complete the project
within the planned timeframe.

10. Another obstacle is a shortage of qualified nuclear engineers.
Only ten Thai are presently studying nuclear engineering in the U.S.
but the RTG plans increase that number to ensure an adequate
personnel pipeline once the reactors start operations.

...BECAUSE WIND ALONE CAN'T KEEP THE AIR CONDITIONERS
RUNNING

11. Although alternatives, renewables, and conservation figure in
the RTG's energy plan, under present technologies and cost
structures, no one we have spoken to foresees these making a
significant dent in Thailand's energy needs over the medium term.
However, the division of the MOEN charged with alternative,
renewable, and sustainable energy and efficiency programs employs
nearly half of the staff of the entire ministry and commands almost
half of the ministry's budget, reflecting longer term plans in these
areas. For now, the MOEN's focus is on nuclear energy.

ENTWISTLE

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