US-based GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy (GEH) has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Vietnam Atomic Energy Agency (VAEA) "aimed at enhancing the agency's understanding of light water reactor technology and nuclear project management". The agreement calls for GEH and VAEA to "cooperate to promote training and development of qualified human resources" associated with the development of Vietnam's civil nuclear power programme. GEH will provide practical work experience for VAEA staff in areas such as nuclear safety culture, project management and quality assurance.

This is the fourth MOU that GEH has signed in Vietnam in recent months. In February, GEH signed an agreement with the Vietnam Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety to promote training and development in the field of nuclear safety analysis. Last autumn, MOUs were signed with the Hanoi University of Science and Technology and Electric Power University to cooperate in the field of nuclear engineering and technology. Twelve students from the two universities recently completed internships at GEH's world headquarters in Wilmington, in the US.

Last week, GEH gave a presentation to members of Vietnam's National Assembly Committee on Science, Technology and Environment on the evolution of boiling water reactors including the GEH's design of the Economic Simplified Boiling Water Reactor (ESBWR). Last September, the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a rule to certify GEH's ESBWR design for use in the US.

Vietnam has no commercial nuclear power stations, but is planning to build four reactors. The government approved the reactors in 2009 and agreements have been signed with Russia to build the first two units and with Japan to build the second two. Construction for the first unit was scheduled to begin in 2014, but in January 2014 Vietnam's prime minister said it would be delayed to 2020 to "ensure the safety and efficiency" of the project.

In August Russian united company NIAEP-ASE, part of state nuclear corporation Rosatom and state-owned Electricity of Vietnam (EVN) signed a framework agreement for construction the first two 1,200 MWe units to be built at the Ninh Thuan-1 NPP at Phuoc Dinh. Rosatom intends to engage Vietnamese companies in the project, localizing up to 30-40% of equipment manufacturing and construction. Moscow and Hanoi signed an initial agreement to build the plant in October 2010 and an agreement giving Vietnam a Russian state loan of $10bn for this project was signed in November 2011.

In November 2014 Vietnam selected Rosatom's AES-2006 design for Ninh Thuan instead of the VVER-1000, increasing the planned capacity of the four unit plant by about 800MWe. Atomproekt based in Saint Petersburg will supply its version of the AES-2006 plant for at least the first two units. The reactors are to be built over 2017-23 as a turnkey project. Russia's Ministry of Finance is prepared to finance at least 85% of this first plant, to supply the nuclear fuel and take back the used fuel.

The Japanese government is now recommending that Vietnam buy a new type of pressurized water reactor developed by Atmea, a a joint venture between Japan's Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and France's Areva, for its second NPP, according to The Nikkei. Japan hopes to export two reactors to Vietnam at a cost of $8bn. Atmea 1 has received the Japanese government's stamp of approval, an Atmea representative said, adding that Vietnam will likely decide next year which reactor type it will employ. If Hanoi officially decides to use the Atmea 1, Kansai Electric Power will offer assistance in staff training and other areas.

Vietnam's nuclear power programme plans for three NPPs: Ninh Thuan Phase I (Russia) and Phase II (Japan), with another plant in a central area. Both the US and South Korea have signed nuclear co-operation agreements and expressed interest in supplying nuclear technology to Vietnam, which also has agreements with France and Canada.

Date: Wednesday, 28 October 2015
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