Friday, August 17, 2012

Japan to help in Hanoi's nuke safety net

Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Yukio Edano has signed memorandums stating the government will cooperate with Vietnam to create a compensation system for damage caused by nuclear power plant accidents.

This is the first time Japan has agreed to provide support in establishing such a system in a foreign country.

Edano, who is currently visiting Vietnam, and Vietnamese Science and Technology Minister Nguyen Quan signed memorandums on the cooperative effort Tuesday.

Vietnam plans to start operating its first nuclear power plant in 2020 as the first phase of its nuclear power development project. Japanese manufacturers will construct two reactors in the country in the second phase of the project.

Using Japan's Law on Compensation for Nuclear Damage as a reference, Vietnam will create its own nuclear damage compensation system.

Japan will provide Vietnam with information on how to define nuclear damage to be covered under the envisaged system, maximum compensation payment amounts and education for personnel dealing with compensation-related issues.

The Japanese government hopes to boost nuclear power plant exports, which have been sluggish since the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant started in March last year, by providing Vietnam with comprehensive support both on the ground and in terms of infrastructure.

"Keeping lessons from the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in mind, we'd like to promote this collaborative effort by sharing our experiences with your country," Edano told Quan.

Additionally, private nonlife insurers, including Tokyo Marine Holdings Inc., are expected to offer support in creating insurance products to cover a certain amount of nuclear damage compensation.

Can lessons be put to use?

The deal in Vietnam will be a test for Japan, which learned grave lessons from the nuclear crisis triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake, as it chases more orders to build nuclear plants in emerging nations. The question is whether it can effectively put these lessons to use at a time when South Korea and Russia are more actively chasing orders to construct new nuclear plants.

"Japan needs to respond to meet the expectations of other countries, particularly because it experienced a recent nuclear crisis," Edano said to reporters in Hanoi.

During talks with Edano, Quan also showed his sense of expectation for the new agreement, by saying he could sense Japan was ready to further enhance the safety of nuclear power plants in the wake of the crisis. He also said he hopes Japan will utilise its experience.

For nuclear power plant manufacturers such as Toshiba Corp., Hitachi Ltd. and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd., emerging countries are important markets to expand their businesses.

The government, which has been helping Vietnam and 10 other emerging nations to nurture human resources by accepting their trainees, is expected to continue its efforts on both "tangible" and "intangible" aspects to win more orders to build nuclear plants.

But market competition is intensifying, as the public and private sectors of nations such as South Korea and Russia are jointly seeking to win construction orders.

In a Turkish nuclear power plant construction plan, in which Japan has already acquired preferential negotiating rights, South Korea is trying hard to boost its position in the negotiations. South Korean President Lee Myung Bak met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for talks to that end.

It is probable other emerging nations suffering from electricity shortages will plan to construct nuclear power plants.

When doing nuclear business in advanced nations, Japan usually only sells reactors or nuclear power-related equipment. But for nuclear power exports to emerging nations, the country is often asked to provide a far more comprehensive package, ranging from plant construction to human resource development and the creation of damage compensation and other systems.

Japan is being put to the test over whether it can utilise the lessons of the nuclear crisis and its advanced technology.-Asia News Network (August 16, 2012)

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