U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Michael W. Michalak and Vice Minister Le Dinh Tien toast to the signing of the MOU for nuclear energy cooperation March 30, 2010 at the Ministry of Science and Technology in Hanoi. (US Embassy photo)
AAP staff report
Washington, D.C. (March 30, 2010) – The United States and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam have reaffirmed a common commitment to the responsible expansion of civil nuclear power – pledging increased cooperation through a memorandum of understanding.
The memorandum was signed Tuesday at the Ministry of Science and Technology in Hanoi, by U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Michael W. Michalak and Vietnam Vice-Minister of Science and Technology Le Dinh Tien.
The document was said to be an understanding concerning cooperation in the civil nuclear field, as a way to open the door for increased cooperation in development of human resources, safety and security, infrastructure, access to reliable sources of nuclear fuel, and the management of radioactive waste and used fuel.
“This is an important moment in our bilateral relations,” said Ambassador Michalak. “This MOU is a key step in furtherance of our common non-proliferation goals, and a significant building block in the development of Vietnam’s peaceful, civilian nuclear power program.
“It is also the culmination of many months of detailed negotiations, building on several years of ongoing cooperation,” he added. “It is only fitting that this new area of cooperation is being launched in 2010, the year where Vietnam and the U.S. mark 15 years since reestablishing official relations.”
The news was also reported at the U.S. State Department Daily Press Briefing Tuesday, by Mark C. Toner, Acting Deputy Department Spokesman, who reiterated that this expansion must proceed in a manner that maximizes nuclear safety and security and minimizes proliferation risk.
“Vietnam has demonstrated its commitment to responsible expansion of nuclear power through careful steps taken in cooperation with the United States among other international partners towards the development of the robust nuclear infrastructure needed to oversee the deployment of its first nuclear power plant over the coming decades,” said Toner.
The memorandum is “one step short” of the full agreement in accordance to Section 123 (Cooperation With Other Nations) of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act, Toner added, but considered it a step in the direction to a 123 agreement.
“We do these on a country-by-country basis, but certainly moving towards that eventual goal,” he added.
The memorandum did not involve in any congressional input and at the time of the briefing there was no reported congressional action to block or change the memorandum.
Michalak said that the U.S. and Vietnam would now continue joint efforts to develop the regulatory and physical infrastructure needed for a safe and secure Vietnamese civilian nuclear power sector. He said the cooperation in power reactor requirements and fuel service arrangements, including the establishment of a reliable source of nuclear fuel for future Vietnamese civilian nuclear reactors, would allow Vietnam to rely upon international markets for nuclear fuel services.
Michalak reflected on past assistance that included the 2007 conversion of the Dalat civilian research reactor from the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) to low enriched uranium (LEU) fuel, and returned nearly 10 pounds of HEU fresh fuel to Russia, with plans to eventually remove the remaining HEU fuel.
That same year the U.S. and Vietnam signed a cooperation and information exchange agreement on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The arrangement led to the eventual installation of new U.S.-supplied low and intermediate level radioactive waste evaporator at the Dalat Nuclear Research Institute – scheduled to begin operations in April 2010.
An arrangement for the Exchange of Information and Cooperation in Nuclear Safety Matters was signed during a 2008 Washington visit from Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. It is designed to develop VARANS with the capacity to serve as an independent regulatory body.
Michalak said that VARANS would eventually take charge of U.S. radiation detection equipment that was deployed to Vietnam’s major seaports.
At President Obama’s invitation, Michalak said that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung would lead an official delegation to the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington D.C. this month. He said the summit is meant to boost international efforts to secure all vulnerable nuclear material around the world.
“In that spirit, and with U.S. encouragement and assistance, we hope that Vietnam builds on its achievements and implements all relevant international non-proliferation agreements so that it can become a model for countries seeking to develop civilian nuclear power,” he added.