India and Vietnam on 3 March signed three agreements including a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to strengthen cooperation in nuclear energy, during Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang's visit to India. The other two were agriculture and trade, and economic cooperation. Discussions also covered enhanced collaboration and cooperation in oil-natural gas exploration, defence and security.

India expressed support for Vietnam and other ASEAN countries (Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Cambodia, Myanmar (Burma), Laos and Brunei) in their territorial dispute with China in the South China Sea.

The nuclear MOU related to co-operation between India’s  Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership  (GCNEP) and the Vietnam Atomic Energy Institute (Vinatom). "The purpose of the MOU is to strengthen the technical cooperation in the field of atomic energy for peaceful purposes," the Indian Prime Minister's office said in a statement.

GCNEP is a nuclear research and training centre under construction near New Delhi. The centre, which began construction in 2014, is to house five schools to research advanced nuclear energy systems, nuclear security, radiological safety, nuclear material characterisation and applications for radioisotopes and radiation technologies. Training facilities are to include virtual reality laboratories and a radiation monitoring, calibration and accreditation laboratory. VinAtom, a research and development institution under Vietnam’s Ministry of Science and Technology, was set up in 1976 to conduct fundamental and applied research on nuclear science and engineering, nuclear reactor technology, nuclear fuel and material, radiation protection and nuclear safety, and radioactive waste management technology.

In February 2006 the Vietnamese government announced that a 2000MWe nuclear power plant should be online by 2020. This general target was confirmed in a nuclear power development plan approved by the government in August 2007, and the target was raised to a total of 8000MWe of nuclear capacity by 2025. A general law on nuclear energy was passed in mid-2008, and a comprehensive legal and regulatory framework is being developed.

Two reactors totalling 2000MWe were planned at Phuoc Dinh in the southern Ninh Thuan province to be supplied by Russia, and a further 2000MWe was planned at Vinh Hai in the same area to be provided by Japan. Additional units were also proposed, but all these plans were dropped in November 2016, when Vietnam's parliament endorsed the government's decision to abandon nuclear power plans in favour of renewable energy and power imports amid lower crude oil and coal prices.

However, in 2017 Vietnam's Ministry of Science and Technology signed an MOU with Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom and on the construction of a nuclear science and technology centre in Vietnam. An inter-governmental agreement to build the centre had been signed between Russia and Vietnam in 2011. The centre will be equipped with Russian-designed research reactors, a cyclotron, as well as research laboratories, and an engineering complex. It will be used for training staff for Vietnam's nuclear power programme if it is revived.

Photo: Signing of the nuclear cooperation agreement between Vietnam and India (Image: Indian Prime Minister's Office)

Date: Tuesday, 13 March 2018
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