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Nuclear Monitor Issue: 

(September 12, 2003) The plan to build a 10 MW research reactor at the Ongkarak nuclear research center in Thailand was obstructed again when the project's Environmental Impact Assessment report was rejected by Thai National Environment Board for incomplete data.

(592.5538) AEPS - The National Environment Board of Thailand finally announced in August its rejection of the EIA report of a 10 MW research reactor proposed to be constructed in Ongkarak district, Nakorn Nayok province, Thailand. According to Mr. Pathom Yamkate, deputy secretary-general of the Office of Atomic Energy for Peace (OAEP) which was the project's owner, the report was rejected because of its incomplete data. One of the missing data was current information about fault lines in Ongkarak district.

The report was also criticized for its lack of up-to-date data. "The EIA's information was so outdated that even constructions or landscapes that were changed for years or did not exist anymore, still appeared in the EIA's map", said a source in the National Environment Board.

The OAEP, however, denied the significance of the report and its rejection as to that it was not an obstacle for the project. According to Mr. Pathom, the project was not required by the present Environmental Act to conduct the EIA, but the OAEP decided to carry it out as an information base for its own use. "It was not compulsory by law, but we still did the report only because we are concerned about the project's safety".

The OAEP was ordered to submit the EIA report to the Environmental Board by the Nuclear Facility Safety Sub-committee (NFSS) which was the country's regulatory body responsible for the review of the project's Preliminary Safety Analysis Report (PSAR). Following IAEA guidelines, PSAR was a key document OAEP was obliged to submit to NFSS in order to obtain the project's construction permit. The NFSS had asked the Environmental Board to consider the EIA report, not because the EIA was required by law to be conducted, but because it was one of the major chapters in PSAR to be considered before PSAR could be approved.

Back in August 2002, the NFSS rejected the project's PSAR because the EIA chapter was missing (as did other safety documents). The OAEP had no other choice but to dust off the project's EIA which was first done in 1997 and was supposed to be finished within six months then but did not. OAEP finally rushed to finish the report within a few months before submitting it to the National Environmental Board in September 2002. With the board's complaint on the report's outdated data, clearly the OAEP probably have not done much in finishing the report which had been left unfinished since 1997 (1).

However, with the time constraint as the project's contract which was signed between OAEP and U.S. General Atomics in June 1997 has expired for two years now. OAEP had to get the construction permit soon, otherwise GA would demand compensation for the delay. Therefore Mr. Pathom hoped that the construction permit could be granted to the project by the Commission of Atomic Energy for Peace, "and the OAEP would improve its EIA during the three year construction" (2).

(1) For more background on the developments in 2002 see WISE/NIRS Nuclear Monitor 573.5439: "Thailand: the final countdown for Ongkarak".
(2) For more background on Thailand's nuclear program see WISE News Communique 473.4692: "Thailand's nuclear program: 1966-1997".

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