The US Department of Energy (DOE) held a workshop on “Nuclear Safeguards and the Additional Protocol” at Phnom Penh’s Sunway Hotel yesterday, highlighting the need for more technical knowledge and greater information sharing on nuclear power in Cambodia.
The workshop comes on the heels of a visit by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last November, when the two countries signed a “memorandum on nuclear cooperation” that revealed the government’s efforts to obtain nuclear power with assistance from Russian experts.
Cambodian officials have not given details about the Russian agreement since it was signed. But Reuters reported from Russia that Sergei Kiriendo, the head of the Russian state nuclear firm Rosatom, said Russia could help with technical support, research and training if the Kingdom chooses to go ahead with the nuclear option.
“The Cambodian government is mulling…a nuclear power station,” he said. “Perhaps, it is better to begin with a research reactor and a research center in Cambodia.”
Cambodia depends heavily on imported fuel and power. Electricity in the country is among the most expensive in Southeast Asia and a common source of complaint from investors.
Most of the electrical energy that Cambodians use on a daily basis is imported from neighboring countries like Vietnam and Thailand.
To deal with frequent energy shortages, the Kingdom is seeking nearly $3 billion in foreign investment to build six hydropower plants by 2018 as it seeks to keep up with rising domestic power demands.
Of all ASEAN nations, Vietnam is the farthest along in its nuclear program with plans to start construction on a nuclear plant slated for 2018-2019. Malaysia and Indonesia are also moving forward with potential plans for nuclear energy, but there have been few concrete developments. Russia is assisting both Vietnam and Indonesia with their nuclear efforts.
The US workshop, hosted by the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) and attended by MME Deputy Director General Dr. Chan Sodovath as well as representatives of other US agencies, focused on the formalities of having nuclear energy, including how to prepare for declarations on international nuclear safeguards.
The workshop also covered how Cambodia can introduce the Additional Protocol (AP), which allows the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to inspect nuclear sites and request information from countries that approve the AP.
“The United States has long considered the international safeguards system to be a central pillar of the nuclear nonproliferation regime’s strategy for preventing the spread of nuclear weapons,” said Anne Harrington, Deputy Administrator for Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation at the DOE. “President Obama re-emphasized the importance of safeguards in his 2009 Prague speech, when he called for ‘more resources and authority’ for international inspections.”
The US Embassy applauded Cambodia for approving the AP more than one year ago, saying, “Entering the AP into force is an important milestone for IAEA Member States, and workshops focused on the AP help to ensure that even states such as Cambodia – with small amounts of nuclear material – develop the necessary infrastructure and safeguards-supporting capacity to fulfill their responsibilities.”