Thailand needs nuclear power plants for the good of the country's future development, says Energy Minister Piyasvasti Amranand.
''I am asking [the next government], do not scrap the nuclear power project. It is a must if you still want to see Thailand grow further, for the country's sake,'' Dr Piyasvasti said during a panel discussion at the Thailand Focus investors' conference yesterday.
But fellow panelists Abhisit Vejjajiva, the Democrat party leader, and Surapong Suebwonglee, the secretary-general of the People Power Party, both declined to commit to moving forward with nuclear power if elected.
Dr Piyasvasti, maintained that sustainable growth for power sector would depend on nuclear plants.
''There are no other choices for long-term energy sources except atomic energy,'' he said.
The current Power Development Plan (PDP) sets a timetable of eight years for initial planning of nuclear plants to generate 4,000 megawatts of electricity, with a further seven years for construction. By 2010, the minister said, the government would have enough information to decide whether to proceed. ''So the new government will have three years from now to think about this.''
He believes the next energy minister should begin the project immediately. ''The project requires a long time for preparation, so it will be better to move ahead. The project will be very useful for the next generation.''
Thailand's power sector is facing challenges due to limitations on natural resources, resulting in volatile energy costs.
Authorities want to reduce reliance on natural gas, which now makes up about 70% of fuel for power generation. Promoting coal-fired plants, even with new technology that reduces environmental impact, has proved very difficult.
Laos is a highly promising source of hydropower but it will take many years before electricity is available to Thailand in substantial amounts.
Dr Piyasvasti said his focus had been on drafting regulations and preparing the groundwork for future policymakers to follow, including use of alternative energy sources.
Seven new energy bills are now before the National Legislative Assembly and are expected to be approved by the end of this year.
He also said that the next government should not be tempted to use populist policies such as oil-price subsidies, as they hurt the country in the long run.