Sand Dunes at Phuoc Dinh in Ninh Thuan Province, Vietnam,
where Vietnam's first nuclear power plant will be built by Russia.
Many residents in Vietnam question whether the communist government's plan to build their first two new nuclear power plants (more than a dozen are planned in total for the coming decades) with two countries best known for Chernobyl (Russia) and Fukushima (Japan) is wise.
However, Vietnam officials have repeatedly insisted the technology to be used is both new and safe.
“The design has been assessed by the International Atomic Energy Agency as the most modern and safe technology available at present.” Said Vu Huy Hoan, Minister of Industry and Trade last year.
Some say that the technology to be used isn’t the biggest problem.
“I always say to my Japanese people [regulators and vendors] that it's immoral to export your Japanese reactors to Vietnam. It's a big concern because they do not have the [trained] people," Yi-Bin Chen, director of the Department of Nuclear Regulation at Taiwan's Atomic Energy Council told the Wall Street Journal.
The fishing fleet at Phuoc Dinh, Ninh Thuan, Vietnam.
A number of proposed sites for Vietnam’s new nuclear reactors were strongly considered, including several spots surrounding Mui Ne Beach, before settling on Ninh Thuan Province, in southern Vietnam.
In August 2011, government officials admitted that the two chosen nuclear sights in southern Ninh Thuan Province were near a network of at least 3 fault lines that could “cause earthquakes that could rupture any proposed structures nearby.”
A grade 3 fault line (enough to derail the entire project by IAEA standards) runs from here to the north, spawning numerous geothermal hot springs, some of which have been developed for tourism. The closest is in Tan Son, within 40km of the two nuclear sites.
Last year there was a public panic when a group of ‘mud volcanoes’ erupted in Thuan Bac, only about 20km from the northernmost site. In just four months a group of five mounds, up to 6m tall, and several long trenches formed, spewing an estimate 30,400 tons of volcanic mud.
Within days, authorities pronounced that the phenomenon was not geothermal in nature, even suggesting it be utilized for tourism.
Seaside village at Phuoc Dinh.
Much of the community will be forcibly relocated by the government
to make way for the new nuclear reactors.
Earthquakes in the south of Vietnam occur from once every 2 years to several each year, frequently ranging in magnitude from 4.3 to 5.5. While noting that the quakes originate off the coast, officials don’t mention that the active sea volcanoes of Veterans and Ile des Cendres are at the source.
Ile des Cendres, about 150km south of the nuclear sites, erupted violently February 15, 1923, creating 2 small islands, the largest of which was 450m long and rose 30m above sea level.
The eruption, which lasted more than one month, generated a 7.0 Richter scale earthquake and a small tsunami. The blast pummeled some areas of the mainland with volcanic ash and rock. Many homes were destroyed by tremors.
According to a report by the Vietnam Institute of Forestry, the same volcanoes generated tsunamis again in 1960, 1963 and 1991.
Despite all this, in January, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung re-affirmed Vietnam’s determination to proceed with the 2 nuclear plants.
The community living in Phuoc Dinh is very poor and has had no say or input in the government's plan to push them out and build a nuclear reactor there. Here a small girl picks through trash along the road in Phuoc Dinh to support her family.
Granted, the two locations are conveniently located near the sea with backs to the mountains, and the immediate areas can easily be sealed off for security or in case of a nuclear disaster. It may also be no coincidence that the nuclear reactors are located near military installations or easily accessible from the deep sea port of Cam Ranh Bay.
Additionally though, it should be noted that these sites are located in the modern (and ancient) homeland of the Cham people, who’s kingdom rivaled the Vietnamese for a thousand years. When something goes wrong, it is the Cham people, by and large, who will pay the price. Though Vietnam has assured the IAEA (in fact it is a program requirement) that it has instituted a program to educate and include the local Cham residents in the development of the country’s nuclear program—many residents and community leaders complain that they have neither been consulted nor directly informed about it.