VietNamNet Bridge – Vietnam’s proposed nuclear power program remains controversial, with a number of issues hotly debated: Does the country really need to build a new 15-20 MW research reactor? Who will be Vietnam’s partners? Which technologies should be used for the reactor and where should it be located?
No need for a high-capacity reactor right now
Vietnam already has a nuclear reactor. The research reactor, in the city of Da Lat,serves some important functions – preparing the labor force for the nuclear power program, carrying out basic research, making radioactive isotopes, , taking neutron pictures, conducting neutron beam research and testing materials.
In terms of training, a high-capacity reactor offers no real advantage over a reactor with low capacity, like Da Lat’s present reactor.
To be sure, a high-capacity research reactor surely can produce more radioactive substances than a low-capacity reactor, both in terms of output and varieties of isotopes. However, a 15-20 MW reactor is well beyond the requirements of Vietnam, a small radioactive isotope consumer, which needs only a few hundreds of Ci per year. The proposed high-capacity reactor would be enough for the isotope needs of all ASEAN countries combined.
A high-capacity reactor surely has greater advantages when carrying out research on neutron beams. However, Vietnam’s science and technology is still at a low development level, which means that it does not need to carry out such research in the immediate future.
In sum, Vietnam still does not need a big research reactor for now, especially when the national economy is still facing such huge challenges.
All that being the case, Vietnam still needs to think of a solution to replace the currently run reactor in Da Lat, which has been operating for too long already. It also needs to make hectic preparations to replace the resources for nuclear technologies if it really wants to have nuclear power.
How big should Vietnam’s reactor be?
It is obvious that a high-capacity reactor can do many more things than a small one, but a small one still can be very useful in many ways.
And a big reactor would be by far more costly than a small one. It would take $300 million to construct a 15-20 MW reactor, while a reactor with the capacity of less than 2 MW could be brought in for a cost of about $50 million.
It would also be more costly to run a big reactor than a small one. The currently run Da Lat reactor requires $5 million worth of fuel for 10 years, while the same volume of fuel is just enough for one year of running a 20 MW reactor.
A reactor in Vietnam would be used mostly for training and research purposes for now and the near[???] future of decades ahead, while production would still be at a moderate level. Therefore, scientists believe that a less-than-2 MW reactor is a reasonable answer for now: it is more suitable, cheaper and safer.
If Vietnam still insists on building a high-capacity reactor of 15-20 MW, it will have to think about providing services to recover at least a part of the operating costs. Silicon doping is one possibility.
That said, Vietnam will have to compete fiercely with other reactors to win such service contracts.