While India has been talking about assisting Vietnam in the development of a civilian nuclear power programme for more than a decade,other countries,especially Russia and Japan,have moved in much quicker.
The visit of the Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang to India this week provides an opportunity for Delhi to make amends.
In announcing their strategic partnership in 2007,Delhi and Hanoi expressed satisfaction at the ‘growing bilateral cooperation between the two countries in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy’.
Since then,Vietnam announced an ambitious plan to build nuclear power plants in the country. In the next two decades,Vietnam hopes to bring at least eight nuclear power plants on line.
Nuclear power is likely to contribute more than 10 per cent of the total electric power generation in Vietnam by 2030.
While nuclear power development appears to have been set back by the nuclear accident at Fukushima last March,Hanoi is determined to press ahead.
In an interesting move,Vietnam has signed an agreement with Japan two weeks ago,to undertake a feasibility study on building nuclear reactors. The study to be undertaken by Japan Atomic Power Company will define the terms for the construction of two reactors of 1000 MW each.
While nuclear power generation has come under a cloud in Japan,Tokyo is now actively exploring the prospects exporting civilian nuclear technology.
Hanoi has already signed a deal with the Russian Rosatom to build the first nuclear power plant in Vietnam. The construction is expected to start in 2014.
Besides Russia and Japan,Vietnam has also negotiated a variety of nuclear cooperation agreements with various countries,including the United States. There has been some speculation in the U.S. media that Washington might not bar Vietnam from building sensitive elements of the nuclear fuel cycle.
The U.S. now insists that Iran and other countries in the Middle East should not develop their own uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing facilities that could provide fuel for nuclear plants as well generate options for future nuclear weapons programme.
Vietnam,however,is a party to all major non-proliferation agreements including the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) and the comprehensive test ban treaty (CTBT).
Washington,in turn,has said it wants to encourage Vietnam to rely on international arrangements for the supply of nuclear fuel rather than build a full nuclear cycle on its own.
The focus of India’s nuclear cooperation with Vietnam until now has been on training and scientific exchanges. The time has come for India to elevate it to a higher level and participate more actively in the development of Vietnam’s nuclear energy industry.