Experts have called for the construction of a national, professional dumping ground for radioactive waste in an attempt to allay mounting concerns regarding Vietnam’s nuclear safety and security. Vuong Huu Tan, head of the Vietnam Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety under the Ministry of Science and Technology, observed at an international conference on nuclear regulations that Vietnam’s infrastructure for nuclear safety and security has failed to meet requirements and standards set by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and other international treaties to which Vietnam is a signatory. The conference took place in Da Lat of the Central Highlands province of Lam Dong last week. According to the Vietnam Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety, the amount of radioactive equipment used in industrial production and health services has seen a rise of around 10 percent in recent years. The country currently boasts almost 4,000 radioactive sources. Among them, over 1,800 have been used and become radioactive waste, which needs to be stored and processed in adherence to stringent security regulations to avoid consequences detrimental to residents and the surroundings, the agency added. Most of the used radioactive sources are currently handed over to the sources’ users – industrial and health facilities – to store and safeguard. Tan, the agency head, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper his agency is mulling disposing of the used radioactive sources at the radioactive waste dumping ground of the Da Lat Nuclear Research Institute. A unit which specializes in the research of nuclear power, the institute is armed with adequate expertise and technology and meets certain security standards in disposing of the hazardous matter, while its dumping ground has yet to operate to its full capacity, he explained. Tan pointed to the imminent risks of the loss or improper management of such radioactive waste if business and health facilities are tasked with storing them. Meanwhile, a high-ranking official of the Da Lat Nuclear Research Institute stressed the institute’s dumping ground cannot house all the radioactive sources available in Vietnam, considering their differences in size, weight and radioactivity. The ground, which is specially designed for research in nuclear technology, is fit for a number of certain radioactive wastes, he noted. The institute has mostly provided assistance to hospitals in storing radioactive waste, as the health facilities have difficulty keeping the hazardous matter away from patients, their families and hospital staff due to limited space. Officials in charge of radioactive safety at many local industrial units have expressed concerns regarding how to cope with their hazardous garbage. Tran Dai Tinh, one such official at Vietsovpetro, a Russian-Vietnamese joint venture for oil and gas exploration, told Tuoi Tre that a clutch of the group’s equipment with radioactive content will reach their expiry dates and need to be stored or discarded in five years’ time. The group is now at a loss over how to cope, as they are not sure whether the Da Lat institute will receive their waste. Nguyen Thi Nga, another radioactive safety official at Vietsovpetro, added the IAEA recently warned that six of the group’s devices no longer meet international safety benchmarks. The group faced immense difficulty seeking help from units, but none agreed to assist them as the radioactive content is quite heavy. Fifteen other pieces of equipment also face the same plight. Likewise, radioactive safety experts at major local hospitals known for their nuclear medicine strengths such as Hanoi’s Bach Mai and Oncology Hospitals also have their hands tied. They each boast dozens of items with radioactive content. The country currently has four facilities with dumping grounds for used radioactive sources. One operates under the General Department of Geology and Minerals, while the three others belong to the Institute for Nuclear Science and Technology, the Da Lat Nuclear Research Institute and the Center for Nondestructive Evaluation. However, the disposal sites of the Institute for Nuclear Science and Technology and the Center for Nondestructive Evaluation, which are located in residential areas, are no longer receptive to other units’ waste as of 2013. Nguyen Tien Manh, of the Vietnam Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety, urged that importers or industrial and healthcare units which purchase radioactive equipment be required to make a commitment to return the used sources to producers, who are mostly in other countries, in an attempt to curb the amount of new radioactive waste in the coming time. Need for a national radioactive waste dumping ground Local experts strongly urged for the prompt establishment of a national radioactive dumping ground. The urge is particularly pressing as the construction of two nuclear power plants in the south-central province of Ninh Thuan is nearing. The construction of the two facilities, which was approved in 2009, has been delayed from this year to 2017. The Ninh Thuan 1 nuclear power plant, to be located in Phuoc Dinh Commune in Thuan Nam District, is expected to be completed in 2024, while the Ninh Thuan 2 plant in Vinh Hai Commune, Ninh Hai District will be completed the following year. The construction cost of the two plants, with a total capacity of 4,000 MW a year, was estimated in 2008 at VND200 trillion (US$9.2 billion). The operation of these two facilities would generate substantially more radioactive garbage then, experts warned. The suggested national dumping ground would be designed for stockpiles of radioactive waste discharged from industrial and medical facilities nationwide. Nguyen Nu Hoai Vi, of the Vietnam Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety, said that if established, the site would be designed for the removal, transport, storage and permanent burial of radioactive waste at their owners’ cost. Tan, head of the agency, affirmed the need for such a nationwide disposal site, which is one of the criteria recommended by the IAEA to develop nuclear science in Vietnam. The plan to build such a site will depend on when the two nuclear power plants in Ninh Thuan are constructed.
Rife violations of radioactive safety regulations In 2013, the Vietnam Agency for Radiation and Nuclear Safety and provincial Departments of Science and Technology launched inspections and slapped fines on 57 industrial facilities for their infringements of radioactive safety across the country. The fines were worth a total of VND360 million ($16,537). Eighty facilities were also fined over VND600 million ($27,561) in 2014. Several incidents, such as the loss of radioactive equipment by the construction and industrial testing company Apave Asia Pacific reported last year, have further bothered insiders and residents.