U.S. to assist Thailand, Philippines with nuclear energy plans

November 29, 2022, 3:10PMNuclear News
Philippine president Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. and Vice President Harris meet in Manila on November 21. (Photo: Office of the Press Secretary, Republic of the Philippines)

During a recent weeklong trip to Southeast Asia aimed at bolstering U.S. economic and security ties in the region, Vice President Kamala Harris announced the launch of nuclear energy partnerships with Thailand and the Philippines.

Currently, neither country enjoys the benefits of nuclear power. Both rely primarily on some mix of petroleum, natural gas, and coal for their energy needs.

A FIRST for Thailand: At her initial stop in Thailand Harris unveiled a Foundational Infrastructure for Responsible Use of Small Modular Reactor Technology (FIRST) program to build that nation’s capacity for SMR deployment. Established last year by the State Department, FIRST provides assistance to partner countries seeking to develop nuclear programs to support their clean energy goals.

The FIRST program will work with experts from government, academia, industry, and national laboratories to explore options to advance Thailand’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2065 via SMR deployment, according to the White House. “This partnership will help Thailand take advantage of the unique benefits of SMRs that provide 24/7 reliable power, complement other clean energy sources, use a small land footprint, and incorporate advanced safety features,” the White House said in a November 18 fact sheet. “Cooperation under FIRST will also deepen strategic ties, support clean energy innovation, and advance technical collaboration between the two countries.”

Tightening ties with Manila: In the Philippines, Harris announced the launch of negotiations for an agreement on civil nuclear cooperation—a so-called 123 Agreement. Named after Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act, these pacts provide a legal framework for exports of nuclear material, equipment, and components from the United States to another country. At this writing, the United States has enacted 24 such agreements with 48 countries, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the governing authorities on Taiwan.

“Once in force, this agreement will provide the legal basis for U.S. exports of nuclear equipment and material to the Philippines,” the White House noted in a November 20 fact sheet. “The United States is committed to working with the Philippines to increase energy security and deploying advanced nuclear reactor technology as quickly as safety and security conditions permit to meet the Philippines’ dire baseload power needs. Such a deployment would support both energy security and climate goals, as well as support workers and businesses in both countries.”

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