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Vietnam has announced ambitious plans to develop a nuclear power industry, with the aim of having eight nuclear plants up and running by 2030. 

According to the official Vietnamese newspaper Thanh Nien officials announced last month (22 June) that the plants would be located in five central provinces, and would generate 15,000 megawatts of power — enough to meet ten per cent of the country's power demand.

The first reactor at the first plant, in Ninh Thuan province, will be operational by 2020, according to the plans, putting Vietnam on track to be the first country in South-East Asia to use nuclear power.

Indonesia's proposal to have a nuclear plant up and running by 2016 is floundering, according to the Jakarta Globe.

Thanh Nien also reported that Vietnam's power demand has grown by more than five per cent each year for the last decade, a result of both industrial development and increased residential electricity consumption.

Vuong Huu Tan, president of the state-owned Vietnam Atomic Energy Commission, said the country will continue developing its coal, natural gas and hydropower resources, but that those energy sources will not satisfy the country's growing power demand.

"Therefore, we need to build nuclear power plants," he told SciDev.Net.

Financing will be the biggest challenge to Vietnam's nuclear plans, John Morris, an energy consultant with Australia-based firm International Energy Consultants, told SciDev.Net. In a 2006 study of Vietnam's power and gas markets, his consulting firm did not cite nuclear power as a financially viable energy source for Vietnam.

Morris told SciDev.Net that foreign investors could be wary of supporting nuclear-power projects in Vietnam, particularly because it is difficult to predict the future price of uranium.

He said that building one 1000-megawatt nuclear plant would cost Vietnam US$5 billion — enough to  finance four or five natural gas power plants.

Morris added that even if Vietnam builds nuclear plants, it could lack the trained personnel to operate them.

But Tan said Russia has already agreed to finance Vietnam's first 4,000-megawatt nuclear plant and that Vietnam hopes other foreign countries will help finance the remaining plants.

Tan also said that Rosatom, a Russian state-owned energy company, will train Vietnamese engineers to operate the first nuclear plant. He added that Vietnamese prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung has approved a plan to train Vietnamese workers in the "human resources" side of the nuclear industry.