US to aid Thailand in small nuclear development

The United States will help Thailand develop nuclear power through a new class of small reactors.

The move is part of a programme aimed at fighting climate change, US Vice President Kamala Harris announced on a recent visit.

The White House said the assistance was part of its Net Zero World Initiative, a project launched at last year’s Glasgow climate summit in which the US partners with the private sector and philanthropists to promote clean energy.

Thailand does not currently have nuclear power, with the national mood on the issue decidedly against after the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, but subsequently understood to be mellowing.

However, the country has had a small research reactor since 1962, and the Thailand Institute of Nuclear Technology has proposed building a 20-megawatt reactor site in Ongkharak district of Nakhon Nayok.

The White House said it would offer technical assistance to the country to deploy the developing technology of small modular reactors, which are factory-built and portable. Such reactors are generally considered safer as they do not need human intervention to shut down in emergencies.

“We really look forward to working with Thailand to take advantage of the benefits of small modular reactors and reliable clean energy sources,” said a senior US official travelling with Harris.

A White House statement said that US experts would work with Thailand on deploying the reactors, which will have the “highest standards of safety, security and non-proliferation” and boast a smaller land footprint than alternatives.

US rivals China and Russia, as well as Argentina, are also developing small modular reactors, the prototypes of which are in the design phase.

The White House did not give a timeline but said it would support Thailand, which is highly vulnerable to climate change, in its goal of going carbon neutral by 2065.

Harris was visiting the US ally for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit, also  discussing the nuclear power initiative in a meeting with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.