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Cablegate: Thai Civilian Nuclear Energy Program: Renewed Focus And

VZCZCXRO8275
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHBK #3010/01 3291038
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 251038Z NOV 09
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9110
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
INFO RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 7342
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 003010

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

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

SUBJECT: Thai Civilian Nuclear Energy Program: Renewed Focus and
Opportunity for Cooperation

BANGKOK 00003010 001.2 OF 002


Sensitive But Unclassified. For Official Use Only.

REF: BANGKOK 2505

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: In spite of anticipated community protests,
Thailand appears committed to developing its civilian nuclear energy
and research programs. The Royal Thai Government's (RTG) Office of
Atoms for Peace (OAP) hosted the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
(NRC) earlier this month to discuss Thailand as a leading recipient
for radioactive sources, and the National Nuclear Security
Administration (NNSA) to discuss potential technical assistance on
nuclear security and safety protocols. The visits paralleled
increased public relations efforts, not altogether successful, by
the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) to prepare
the Thai public for a decision to embrace nuclear power generation.
END SUMMARY.

----------------------------------------
U.S. Delegations and the Office of Atoms for Peace
----------------------------------------

2. (SBU) The Office of Atoms for Peace (OAP) hosted delegations
from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on November 9 and
10, and from the U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration
(NNSA) on November 9 through 11. Both groups came to Thailand to
strengthen their relationships with OAP, the regulatory body for the
Thai government's civilian nuclear energy program. A separate group
from the NRC will visit Bangkok in the first week of December to
attend an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) conference.

3. (SBU) According to the NRC, Thailand ranks 7th in the world
among countries listed on license applications to receive
radioactive sources. (Note: The NRC is the USG entity that issues
export licenses for radioactive sources. End Note.) Although
appearing as a client on an export license does not necessarily mean
that an actual transaction will take place, Thailand frequently
receives radioactive sources for use in academic research,
industrial applications, and the irradiation of medical devices, dog
toys, and spices, among other items. Officials from the NRC
indicated that there is nothing of concern about the types of
sources that Thailand has been receiving. Iridium, for example,
which is used for radiography, has a half-life of only 74 days and
must be replaced frequently.

4. (SBU) While OAP did not specifically discuss technical
assistance for the Thai nuclear energy program from NRC in their
November meetings, OAP has expressed interest in such assistance
both prior and since. In June 2009, OAP sent a letter to NRC
requesting assistance with laws and regulations for nuclear power
plants and human resource development. NRC replied in July,
offering assistance to OAP. On November 18, OAP sent an additional
request to NRC regarding the possibility of an intensive training
session for OAP officials in order to prepare OAP to fulfill its
role in Thailand's civilian nuclear power program, which forecasts
an operational 1000 MW nuclear power plant in the year 2020
(reftel).

5. (SBU) In its conversations with OAP, the NNSA delegation
indicated the goal of its visit was to evaluate the Thai
government's efforts in the following areas, with an eye toward
potential assistance: safety analysis of the research reactor OAP
operates in Bangkok, the development of regulations regarding
nuclear power safeguards, low-level radiation waste management, and
ratification of the IAEA Additional Protocol (AP). (Note: the IAEA
AP ratification process involves several entities within the Royal
Thai Government (RTG), including: the Prime Minister's Office, the
Thai Cabinet, and both Houses of Parliament. End Note.). OAP
welcomed NNSA's offer to provide technical experts to facilitate the
complicated ratification process.

-------------------------------
The Nuclear Program in the News
-------------------------------

6. (U) At the same time as the NRC and NNSA visits, local media
coincidentally ran stories regarding the Electricity Generating
Authority of Thailand (EGAT) and its role in Thailand's nuclear
energy program. EGAT commissioned private firm Burns and Roe Asia
to conduct a related feasibility study to be completed in May 2010
(reftel). As part of this study, Burns and Roe is evaluating 15
sites based on the following criteria: economics, especially with
regard to the cost of accessing a water supply, the environment and
population, geological suitability, political stability, and
community acceptance. In response to our queries regarding the
media stories (some of which turned out to be inaccurate), an EGAT
official told EconOff that environmental concerns would far outweigh
the other factors and would comprise roughly 50 percent of the final
evaluation. Burns and Roe plans to narrow the list of 15 to 5 by

BANGKOK 00003010 002.2 OF 002


the completion of the study next May. According to the EGAT
official, the five potential sites are located in four provinces:
Surat Thani and Nakorn Srithammart in the south, Trat on the coastal
border with Cambodia, and Nakorn Sawan in the central region.
(Note: Articles and editorials presenting predictable arguments both
in favor and against Thailand's civilian nuclear program appeared
almost daily in local Thai press following release of information on
the location of the sites being evaluated. End Note).

7. (SBU) An EGAT official told EconOff that, in support of the
civilian nuclear program, EGAT has initiated a public relations (PR)
campaign that will focus on local communities in these provinces.
At a PR event on November 2 in Surat Thani province, protests
erupted at a forum in which EGAT had planned an informational
session about the realities of nuclear power. Several hundred
locals turned out in the district of Tha Chana to protest the
possibility of a power plant being built in the area. EGAT told us
that they anticipated this protest, as well as strong opposition
from NGOs and local groups throughout the process of developing a
civilian nuclear energy program. In this particular case, an
official from EGAT said that the protests were led by a member of
the opposition Puea Thai party to undermine the efforts of the
Abhisit administration and to protect property he personally owns
near this site. (Comment: We have not had a chance to speak with
the NGOs involved in the protest.)

8. (SBU) COMMENT: The Office of Atoms for Peace (OAP)'s continued
interest in USG assistance on Thailand's civilian nuclear energy
program reflects the commitment to nuclear power development within
the RTG. We should consider ways to support its requests for
technical assistance to push forward our nuclear security and safety
goals, and to assist this treaty ally with the development of its
energy production infrastructure. END COMMENT.

9. (SBU) For the use of interested Washington agencies, key
contacts at OAP include the following officials:

Mr. Chaivat Toskulkao
Secretary General of OAP

Mr. Kittisak Chinudomsub
Director, Bureau of Radiation Safety Regulation

Ms. Usa Kullaprawithaya
Director, International Cooperation Group

Ms. Siriratana Biramontri
Director, Bureau of Technical Support for Safety Regulation

John

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