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Cambodia sets sights on nuclear power

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Cheap power option seen as vital to growing energy needs

Tracey Shelton

Sat Sany in a file photo taken earlier this year.

CAMBODIA may develop its first nuclear power plant as early as 2020, government officials say.

With hydropower and coal capacity expected to peak in the next decade, the government says nuclear energy is the best option for the country.

"Cambodia has a long way to go before meeting electricity demand. After 10 years, we will not have enough hydropower capacity," said Sat Samy, a secretary of state for the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy.

He said Cambodia's nuclear plans are in line with efforts by Asean to promote atomic energy among member states.

Asean energy ministers reached a joint agreement last year in Bangkok to pursue new sources of power for the region's growing electricity needs.

Singapore is heading the Asean plan to study nuclear policy and develop new strategies for the region, said Sat Samy.

He said the announcement is only a first step and that hydropower remains the focus of Cambodia's short- and medium-term energy strategies. 

Ith Praing, a secretary of state for the Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy, confirmed that Cambodia hopes to develop nuclear energy by 2020-2025.

"Energy ministers believe by 2020, electricity demand will be very high...and there will be no extra capacity for hydropower or coal power," Ith Praing said.

He added that Vietnam is currently studying a plan to build a 2,000-megawatt nuclear power plant in the north, and other Asean members are exploring clean coal technology. Thailand plans to start building nuclear plants in the next 5 or 10 years.

"We cannot avoid nuclear power. It will be the only choice for producing cheap electricity," he said. Ngy San, deputy executive director at the NGO Forum, said nuclear power could be an important advance in Cambodia but only if it was done safely.

"Many developing nations are already operating nuclear power plants for electricity, but Cambodia may not be ready for that step," he said.

He added that Cambodia has already invested US$1.4 billion for seven hydropower plants nationwide. "I would be happy if we could build a nuclear power plant, but we need technology to protect the environment, from toxic waste that would destroy our water," he said.

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