Japan slow to realize nuclear plant export to Vietnam

Japan lacks the administrative system it requires to export nuclear technology to Vietnam despite agreements to export and finance two reactors in the country, after it scrapped the agency in charge last year following the 2011 Fukushima disaster, government officials said Saturday.

Although Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sees the export of nuclear technology as one of the pillars of his economic growth strategy, the Japan-Vietnam nuclear cooperation may not proceed as scheduled, they said.

Under domestic rules, the government has to confirm that the importing country has nuclear safety regulations in place and complies with international rules before the state-backed Japan Bank for International Cooperation lends money for the export, the officials said.

The now-defunct Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency had been in charge of confirming the safety of parts and machinery for export, even though Japan has yet to ship a reactor anywhere in the world, they said.

But the Nuclear Regulation Authority, launched in September last year as the new nuclear regulation authority, will not engage in procedures on the safety of nuclear export, the officials said citing what its secretariat told the energy agency in January.

The Agency for Natural Resources and Energy is considering having experts confirm the safety, but exactly when a new system will be established is unknown, the agency officials said.

Vietnam agreed with Japan in October 2010 to import two Japanese nuclear reactors, and Tokyo has since agreed to finance the projects -- each estimated to cost hundreds of billions of yen -- with loans mainly from JBIC. Vietnam is expected to start generating nuclear power in 2021.

While the Japanese manufacturers to be involved have yet to be decided, JBIC is poised to extend loans after contracts are signed between the manufacturers and the Vietnamese side and the government confirms the export safe, a JBIC official said.