Cablegate: Ambassador Wolcott Discusses Civil Nuclear Cooperation

Published: Wed 17 Sep 2008 10:27 AM
DE RUEHBK #2813/01 2611027
R 171027Z SEP 08
E.O. 12958, as amended: N/A
REF: STATE 54213
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1. (SBU) Summary. On August 25, Ambassador Jackie Wolcott led an
interagency delegation to discuss civil nuclear cooperation with
officials from Thailand's Nuclear Power Plant Development Office
(NPPDO, responsible for overseeing the introduction of nuclear
power) and the Office of Atoms for Peace (OAP, responsible for
nuclear policy and safety regulation). The delegation was impressed
with the detailed four-phase roadmap the NPPDO has developed,
largely based on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
Milestones process, which calls for a first nuclear power plant to
go operational in Thailand by approximately 2020. RTG officials
explained Thailand is in the preliminary phase of this plan and will
soon select a foreign consultant to conduct a 20-month feasibility
study. The Thais seemed particularly interested in the areas of
human resources and regulatory cooperation with the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission (NRC), and in potential participation under
the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). Wolcott urged
Thailand to ratify the Additional Protocol (which it has signed) and
to carefully consider joining a number of important safety,
security, and liability conventions. Discussions indicate that
political, regulatory, legislative, and organizational impediments,
including the need to more clearly define agency responsibilities
and roles, must be resolved before Thailand realizes its goal of
building an operational nuclear power plant by 2020. End Summary.
2. (SBU) NNPDO, which was formed less than a year ago, is composed
of many eminent Thai scientists and experts in various fields, some
of whom have recently come out of retirement. These NNPDO board
members possess a vast range of experience at the international and
national levels. OAP, meanwhile, which was initially established in
1961 and subsequently restructured in 2002, appears to consist of
career civil servants with significantly less experience. While it
was not made explicit as to which of these bodies would take the
lead on regulatory and policy issues, the delegation's impression
was that NPPDO could eventually call for the establishment of a new
or reinvigorated governmental entity to oversee nuclear power plant
safety, licensing, and regulation.
3. (SBU) Thailand has made substantial first steps towards building
nuclear power plants, including establishing new agencies and
beginning a multi-year feasibility study. However, the various
agencies handling nuclear energy issues will need to establish
clearer divisions of duties before they can work together
effectively and cohesively. Other potential obstacles to Thailand
realizing its goal of operational nuclear power plants by 2020
include negative Thai public opinion towards power plants and an
unstable financial and political atmosphere. While the delegation
was impressed by the planning conducted by the NNPDO and the
dedication evident in the Thai officials it met, it was also of the
view that the projected schedule for introduction of the first
nuclear power plant is unrealistic and will eventually have to be
Visit Details
4. (U) Ambassador Jackie Wolcott, Special Envoy for Nuclear
Nonproliferation, led an interagency delegation to Bangkok, Thailand
on August 25, 2008 to discuss civil nuclear cooperation under the
Joint Declaration on Nuclear Energy and Nonproliferation, a July
2007 Presidential initiative. Wolcott's delegation included Alex
Burkart and Marc Humphrey of the State Department, and Steve Burns
of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Meetings were held
with the Nuclear Power Program Development Office (NPPDO), which was
formed within the past year under the Ministry of Energy to oversee
the development of nuclear power, and the Office of Atoms for Peace
(OAP), which operates as the nuclear and radioactive source
regulator under the Ministry of Science and Technology. Wolcott
emphasized to both bodies, in separate meetings, that the USG
supports the expansion of nuclear power in Thailand, and opened a
dialogue on potential areas of cooperation to facilitate the
development of the highest safety, security, and nonproliferation
Thailand's Nuclear Power Plans
5. (SBU) NPPDO Advisor Dr. Kopr Kritayakirana explained that
Thailand had just entered a "third round" of consideration for
nuclear energy, following an initial plan in 1976 that was postponed
when large gas reserves were discovered in the Gulf of Thailand and
a second iteration that was shelved in light of the 1997 economic
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crisis. The current effort, the planning for which began in early
2007, calls for the deployment of 2,000 MW of nuclear power by 2020
followed by an additional 2,000 MW the following year. To implement
this plan, the Thai Cabinet has established three teams: (1) the
Infrastructure Development Program (headed by Kritayakirana), which
over the next three years will focus on the development of legal and
regulatory frameworks, human resources, and industrial
infrastructure; (2) the Utility Development Program, which will
oversee the construction of the first nuclear plant (to be operated
by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, a state-owned
utility company) and the distribution of electricity; and (3) the
Public Information and Acceptance Program, which will attempt to
overcome the public resistance to nuclear power seen in the two
previous attempts at its deployment.
6. (SBU) The development of nuclear power will occur over four
phases, Kritayakirana explained, largely based on the IAEA
Milestones process. Thailand is currently in an initial
"Pre-project Activity Phase," during which a 20-month feasibility
study will be conducted to assist with site surveys, technology
selection, and environmental impacts. Thailand expects to select an
international consultant within the next month to lead this study,
and Burns and Roe, a longtime collaborator on other engineering
projects in Thailand, was the sole U.S. firm to bid for the
contract. (Comment: The call for proposals was heretofore unknown
to Embassy and Department officials. End Comment.) This
pre-project phase is scheduled to conclude in 2011 with the
realization of the first milestone - an ability to make a
knowledgeable commitment to nuclear power. The next phases would
include the "Program Implementation Phase" (2011-2014) and the
"Construction Phase" (2014-2020), to be followed by the "Operation
Technical Conventions
7. (U) In both meetings, Wolcott welcomed Thailand's signature of
the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) along with its
Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, but stressed the importance of
Thailand's adoption of the Additional Protocol, as well as a number
of international safety, security, and liability conventions, if it
is to seriously pursue nuclear power. Specifically, she cited the
Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS), the Convention on the Physical
Protection of Nuclear Material, the Joint Convention on the Safety
of Spent Fuel Management and on the Safety of Radioactive Waste
Management, and the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for
Nuclear Damage (reftel). NPPDO Technical Advisor Pricha Karasuddhi
replied that Thailand was "planning on signing" the CNS, and Legal
Advisor Dr. Thanes Sucharikuo added that Thailand was currently
studying other countries' laws and treaties intensively and that it
therefore welcomed assistance from U.S. experts in the development
of its nuclear law. Kritayakirana added that Thailand was a "great
admirer of the U.S. system" and commented that assistance with
regulatory framework development was a "good area for U.S.
cooperation." Burns informed NPPDO and OAP officials that this type
of assistance could be greatly facilitated via an Information
Exchange Arrangement between U.S. and Thai regulatory bodies.
Nuclear Fuel Supply
8. (SBU) With regard to fuel supply, Karasuddhi noted that the U.S.
had supplied Thailand with research reactor fuel for 50 years and
that Thailand would be interested in a similar fuel leasing
arrangement with the U.S. for power reactor fuel, perhaps as part of
the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP). Burkart explained
that the laws governing power reactor fuel were significantly more
complex, but that the U.S. and other GNEP partners were working on
developing new policies to facilitate fresh fuel provision and spent
fuel management. Wolcott encouraged Thailand to join the Global
Nuclear Energy Partnership, and NPPDO officials asked what needs to
be done to attend the October 1 GNEP Ministerial meeting in Paris.
They added that an expert on Thai utilities had been designated to
consider GNEP (though he was unfortunately absent during the
meeting). Wolcott noted the importance to emerging nuclear energy
states of the Reliable Access to Nuclear Fuel initiatives currently
being developed under the IAEA, and encouraged Thailand to express
its views on this within the Board of Governors. Kritayakirana also
noted that IAEA officials had advised Thailand against the
development of indigenous enrichment and reprocessing capacity, and
that Thailand was "not making provisions" for the development of
these technologies.
World Bank Study on Nuclear Energy
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9. (SBU) Ambassador Wolcott raised with NPPDO officials the
importance of nuclear power plant financing as Thailand moved to
develop nuclear power. The World Bank is considering a study on the
cost competitiveness of nuclear power, a favorable report could help
overturn the Bank's policy against nuclear power. However, since
this study has been temporarily suspended by certain anti-nuclear
countries, Wolcott suggested that the Thai representative at the
World Bank express support for its completion.
10. (SBU) On September 4, Wolcott met with Thai Charge Damrong
Kraikruan in Washington to follow-up on her meetings in Bangkok. In
addition to nuclear energy, Wolcott and Kraikruan discussed the
current political unrest in Bangkok. Wolcott noted political
stability will be an important factor weighed by those considering
nuclear cooperation with Thailand.
11. (U) Ambassador Wolcott has cleared a draft of this cable.
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