Cambodia and China are close to inking an agreement that would bring the Kingdom another step closer to developing its own nuclear technology, officials said yesterday, although it would not be used initially to bolster its electricity production.
Ministry of Environment Deputy Director-General Tin Ponlok said the two countries are now in the technical stages of finalising a memorandum of understanding (MoU) under which China would provide expertise, research and scholarships to help Cambodia develop nuclear energy for “peaceful purposes”.
The partnership won’t focus on electricity production, “although the option is there for the future”, Ponlok said.
For now, the focus is largely on harnessing nuclear energy for medical and agricultural use, he said.
“We have no illusions about the challenges associated with building a nuclear power plant for electricity production,” he said. “Our primary focus is on non-electricity production.”
While it was unclear what specific priorities nuclear technology might address in Cambodia, it can be used in medical processes like diagnosing and treating conditions like cancer, and sterilising medical products. Nuclear energy can also be used to control insect populations and engineer plant varieties.
Cambodia and Russia signed a similar agreement last year under which Russia agreed to help create a nuclear research centre in Cambodia.
At the time, Prime Minister Hun Sen also stressed that nuclear technology would be used “for peaceful purposes”. The Cambodian constitution already prohibits the manufacture, use or storage of nuclear weapons.
Experts say a nuclear power plant remains a distant possibility for Cambodia despite the urgent need for more electricity.
Last year, the former deputy director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency said Thailand would need at least a decade to build a nuclear power plant, and Cambodia would need longer.
Deth Sok Udom, a professor of international relations at Zaman University, said Cambodia “is not ready” to build its own nuclear power plant, but should begin investing in education and raising public awareness.
“The public in general has almost no clue about what nuclear power is,” Sek Udom said. “We should have a conversation about it with the public, have a debate. If down the road we don’t have the public’s support, it will be an issue.”
The draft MOU is expected to be finalised by the end of the month and submitted to leaders of both countries at the China-Asean Expo in Nanning in September.
Ponlok said ministry officials were discussing the partnership with Chinese officials for roughly a year and that the joint venture is supported by the IAEA, he said.
Ministry of Energy officials met with representatives from state-owned China National Nuclear Corporation for four hours on Monday to discuss the MOU, along with representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries; the Ministry of Health; the Ministry of Industry and Handicrafts; and the Ministry of Mines and Energy.
Additional reporting by Niem Chheng