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Cablegate: Thailand Hopes for Nuclear Power by 2020

VZCZCXRO9153
PP RUEHCHI
DE RUEHBK #2505/01 2740847
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 010847Z OCT 09 ZDK UR SVC 8056
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 8462
RHMCSUU/DEPT OF ENERGY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
INFO RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI PRIORITY 7078
VIENNA IAEA
ASEAN COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 002505

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: IAEA TRGY ENRG TH

SUBJECT: Thailand Hopes for Nuclear Power by 2020

REF: Bangkok 3711

BANGKOK 00002505 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Thailand's 2007-2021 Power Development Plan (PDP)
calls for nuclear production of electricity by 2020. Newly-revised
goals call for 1,000 MW from nuclear power in each of four years
beginning in 2020, which would account for about five percent of
total electricity use. Authorities admit that their public relations
program has so far been lacking, even though they expect that gaining
public acceptance will be key to the program's success. The next
milestone will be completion of a feasibility study by Burns and Roe
(Asia) in May 2010. Thailand, a member of IAEA, would welcome
additional international interaction, especially assistance from the
United States, in the development of its program. END SUMMARY.

-------------------------------
Progress towards Nuclear Energy
-------------------------------

2. (SBU) In a recent meeting with Econoff, officials from Thailand's
Nuclear Power Project Development Office (NPPDO) outlined the
progress of Thailand's nuclear energy program and the role nuclear
energy will play in the future of the country. More ambitious
projections have been revised down to 1,000 MW for four years
beginning in 2020. This would be roughly five percent of Thailand's
energy needs, and officials are hopeful that the program will
continue to make progress and reach its immediate goals, such as the
completion of the feasibility study by Burns and Roe (Asia) in May
2010.

3. (SBU) The feasibility study will answer several significant
questions, substantially determining the direction of the program.
First, Burns and Roe has created a list of fifteen potential
construction sites by using criteria from the International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) and will submit five from that list to the
Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT). EGAT will then
choose three sites from the list of five and submit that list to the
Cabinet. Second, the feasibility study will provide guidance on what
technology would best suit the program. Thai officials have not yet
decided whether they will build a pressurized water reactor, a
boiling water reactor or another system. Finally, the study will
analyze the cost of construction and operation. NPPDO officials said
that they see the costs of reactor construction rising throughout the
world and they will press Burns and Roe to provide accurate cost
estimates for construction in the out years.

4. (SBU) NPPDO officials told Econoff that Thailand has a long
history of interest and research in nuclear science. In fact, this
is the third significant effort to develop nuclear power for
electricity production. The first plan was shelved in 1976 after the
discovery of natural gas in the Gulf of Thailand. The second plan
was stopped in the late-1990s by the Asian economic crisis. NPPDO
officials cited this history as an advantage for Thailand. They
asserted that these prior preparations make realistic the training of
a needed workforce for a 2020 production date.

5. (SBU) Thailand's Office of Atoms for Peace (OAP) has operated a
1.2 MW nuclear research reactor near Bangkok for more than forty
years. Chulalongkorn University, Thailand's leading educational
institution, has a graduate program in nuclear engineering, with
about thirty graduates per year. NPPDO officials said that the
university would begin an undergraduate program and expand the
graduate program if Thailand decides to "go nuclear" in 2011, and
that Thailand has "advanced and sophisticated" programs in related
subjects, such as nuclear and radiation science in the fields of
medicine, agriculture, and industry.

6. (SBU) The Royal Thai Government (RTG) has received frequent
contact and visits from vendors and regulators from many countries,
including the United States, France, China, Japan, Belgium, Russia,
and the Republic of Korea. Officials anticipate that these
relationships will become more focused and concrete after the study
is complete and the details of the selected technology become clear.
NPPDO officials told Econoff that they are very interested in any
kind of international support and guidance and would like to be
included in the international discussion about nuclear energy.

---------
Obstacles
---------

7. (SBU) With regard to government support, NPPDO officials noted
that their work has not been hampered by politicians in any way, that
their budget has remained intact in spite of the economic downturn,
and that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva chairs the National Energy
Policy Council (NEPC) himself, unlike in previous administrations.
Nevertheless, the Abhisit government has yet to express support
publicly for the program.

BANGKOK 00002505 002.3 OF 002

8. (SBU) Although Thai officials are generally positive about the
work that NPPDO, EGAT, and other relevant organizations have
accomplished, they noted that significant public outreach is needed.
They told Econoff that groups, especially in rural areas, protest
plans for the development of any kind of major infrastructure
project, such as a conventional power plant, and that a nuclear
reactor would no doubt be a lightning rod for these sentiments.

9. (SBU) Senator Lertrat Ratanavanich, the chairman of the Senate's
Energy Standing Committee, shared similar reservations with us about
future public reaction. He anticipates significant protest from
non-governmental organizations, and believes that Abhisit's Democrat
Party would be unlikely to give strong public support to the nuclear
program in the current, fragile political situation for fear of
supporting anything that would be unpopular with the public. The
Senator believes that the nuclear power program will ultimately go
forward, but
the 2020 goal for nuclear power may be optimistic and that 2025
might be more realistic.

--------------------------------------------
Nuclear Power as Part of the Energy Solution
--------------------------------------------

10. (SBU) The Ministry of Energy estimates that demand for energy
and specifically electricity will roughly double in Thailand by the
year 2025. Thailand's energy strategy has identified increasing
energy demand and the need to diversify energy sources. Today,
Thailand relies heavily on natural gas which contributes as much as
70 percent of all electricity in the country. Natural gas comes
primarily from two sources: Two thirds from Thai extraction from the
Gulf of Thailand and one third from imports from Burma. NPPDO
officials speculated that the gulf reserves would only last another
twenty years.

11. (SBU) Moreover, there is growing concern that the natural gas
supply from Burma may not be reliable. This vulnerability received
particular attention last August, when the gas pipeline from Burma's
Yadana field was shut down for two hours shortly after the RTG
publicly criticised Burma for the imprisonment of Aung San Suu Kyi.
To avoid a blackout in western Thailand, EGAT released water from the
Srinakarin Dam, causing flooding in the province of Kanchanaburi.
Burmese officials say the timing was coincidental, citing technical
problems, but Thai businesspeople and the press speculated that it
was a political gesture. Whether the interruption in service was
intentional or not, the event focused public attention on the
vulnerability of Thailand's gas supply from Burma. NPPDO officials
dismissed the idea that the Burmese government would use the gas
supply as a political weapon, saying it would be like "Russia turning
off the gas to Europe," but they agreed with public sentiment that
Thailand is too dependent on natural gas, especially from potentially
unreliable neighbor.

12. (SBU) The energy policy of the Abhisit administration stresses
environmentally-friendly sources that will provide price stability
and security. NPPDO officials said that nuclear energy is attractive
because it satisfies these goals. They believe that public support
can be built though proper education, including alleviating concerns
about safety.

-------
Comment
-------

13. (SBU) COMMENT: The NPPDO, EGAT, and OAP officials who met with
us are serious scientists and professionals committed to the creation
of a nuclear power program. They have a practical sense of the
political and economic situation in Thailand and are earnestly trying
to navigate the obstacles in front of them. Although they are
justifiably worried about public reaction to nuclear development and
the most difficult tests are yet to come, these officials are
optimistic that a nuclear power program can be set up in Thailand.
Energy development is among the most serious challenges facing the
country in the next few decades. Officials working on nuclear
development here would welcome assistance from the United States,
their long-time ally, in technical, regulatory and commercial realms.
END COMMENT.

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