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In 2006, with the adoption of the document “Strategy for Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy up to 2020,” Vietnam’s government officially announced its long-term plan to meet rising domestic energy consumption by including nuclear energy in its energy portfolio. The following year, another document, “Strategy Implementation Master Plan,” was released to provide further details on the roadmap that the Vietnamese government intended to follow to develop a nuclear energy program. According to the latter document, Vietnam’s nuclear program would include the construction of two 1,000 megawatt of electrical power (MWe) reactors in Phuoc Dinh in the southern Ninh Thuan province by 2015, originally scheduled to be in operation by 2020. Following this, another 2,000 MWe nuclear power plant (with two reactors) is set to be built in Vinh Hai, a seaside community 40 kilometers from Phuoc Vinh, and scheduled to come online by 2021.
Despite recent obstacles that have forced the government to delay construction on the first two nuclear plants, Vietnam is thus poised to become the first state to operate nuclear plants in Southeast Asia, outpacing countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, which have long been interested in nuclear energy.
The peaceful intentions of Vietnam’s nuclear program are not in question today. But lessons from past proliferation outbreaks teach us two simple lessons. First, peaceful intentions may change over time, and thus the international community is justifiably interested in creating strong regulatory regimes and safeguards systems that can enhance transparency and confidence. Second, denying that the creation of new states with civilian nuclear power poses new security and safety challenges ultimately increases proliferation and safety risks and impairs the capacities of the international community to act in advance to reduce future risks and promptly to respond and manage risks if they nonetheless emerge.
In this paper, Tanya Ogilvie-White explores the nature of Vietnam’s nuclear program. Through a thoughtful, deeply analytical, and empirically rich analysis, she demonstrates that thus far Vietnam is indeed operating on the international scene as a responsible nuclear power, demonstrating its full adherence to international treaties and maintaining an impeccable nonproliferation record. Nevertheless, the changing structure of the regional order in Southeast Asia, coupled with growing insecurity, territorial disputes, and an evident weakness of the chief regional organization, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to respond to such crises could create more powerful proliferation risks in the future. Ogilvie-White encourages stronger bilateral and multilateral engagement with the region and with Vietnam, in particular, in order to respond to and improve current strategic insecurities. She urges nuclear weapons-states to successfully conclude the ratification process of the Protocol of the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone Treaty. This would allow for a significant de-escalation of tension, particularly among external powers operating in the region, and would offer a privileged platform for confidence and trust building inside the region and with key external players.
For more than five decades, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences has played a pivotal role in nonproliferation studies, beginning with a special issue of Dædalus on arms control published in 1960. The Academy continues this focus today with its Global Nuclear Future (GNF) Initiative, which is working to prevent nuclear risks by identifying and promoting measures that will limit the security, safety, and proliferation risks created by the apparent growing global appetite for nuclear energy. The GNF Initiative has created an interdisciplinary and international network of experts that is working together to devise and implement nuclear policy for the twenty-first century.
To help reduce the risks that could result from the global expansion of nuclear energy, the GNF Initiative addresses a number of key policy areas, including the international nonproliferation regime, the entirety of the fuel cycle, the physical protection of nuclear facilities and materials, and the interaction of the nuclear industry with the nonproliferation community. Each of these areas has specific challenges and opportunities, but informed and thoughtful policies for all of them are required for a comprehensive approach to reduce the risks inherent in the spread of nuclear technology.
The GNF Initiative is supported by grants from Carnegie Corporation of New York, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, The Flora Family Foundation, and The Kavli Foundation. The Academy is grateful for the support it has received from these foundations.
Steven E. Miller, Codirector of the GNF Initiative
Harvard Kennedy School
Scott D. Sagan, Codirector of the GNF Initiative