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Japan, Vietnam to Move Forward on Nuclear Deal

By TOKO SEKIGUCHI

TOKYO—Japan's prime minister and his Vietnamese counterpart agreed Monday to advance a plan to export Japanese nuclear technology to the Southeast Asian nation, despite Japan's own freeze on restarting suspended reactors over safety concerns.

"We will go forth with the construction of nuclear-power reactors" with Japan's aid, Nguyen Tan Dung said at a joint news conference after their talks.

As part of their energy and resources cooperation, the two sides also agreed on the development of rare-earth material in Vietnam, beginning with their first joint project in Dong Pao, Lai Chau province.

Vietnam plans to purchase two Japanese nuclear reactors for a plant in southeast Ninh Thuan province to start operations in 2021. Vietnam decided on the purchase last October, but the plan was thrown into doubt after the accident at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. The accident raised safety concerns that have kept nuclear plants in Japan idle following scheduled maintenance.

Monday's agreement is seen as an indication that Japan will resume efforts to export nuclear technology. Japan currently has its sights on countries such as Turkey, Jordan, Lithuania, Kazakhstan and India.

Vietnam's formal endorsement of Japanese nuclear technology came days after Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba and his Indian counterpart, S.M. Krishna, agreed to move ahead with talks toward a civilian nuclear-power agreement Saturday. The agreement was a precondition to enable Tokyo to export nuclear-power-plant technology to the South Asian country.

Vietnam decided on its purchase in October with strong encouragement from Japan's then-Prime Minister NaotoKan. But before leaving office in August, Mr.Kan became a leading anti-nuclear advocate, pushing for the scrapping nuclear energy in Japan, casting doubts on the country's aims to export nuclear technology.

Current Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda has called for Japan to "minimize dependency" on nuclear energy. The ruling Democratic Party of Japan had promoted nuclear-technology exports as a pillar of its economic growth strategy. But the March 11 earthquake and ensuing accident at the Fukushima plant led to a suspension of negotiations toward accords on the transfer of nuclear-energy technology and related materials for peaceful use.

The Japanese government now says the Fukushima nuclear crisis and its aftermath leave the country with invaluable experience to help improve nuclear safety in the rest of the world. But nearly eight months after the accident, the government has yet to come up with a comprehensive cleanup plan, exacerbating anxiety and mistrust among its citizens.

On Saturday, Environment Minister Goshi Hosono, who is also in charge of overseeing the nuclear crisis, said the government will build a containment facility in Fukushima in the next three years to store rubble from the stricken plant for about 30 years while it finds a permanent disposal site.

Contaminated soil and rubble in the areas surrounding the Fukushima reactors have been piled up and abandoned while the government struggles to find a long-term containment area. Local governments and residents have voiced concerns about leakage of radioactive material as the mountains of rubble await removal.

Meanwhile, the government has yet to announce when the areas surrounding the plant will become habitable. In September, the industry minister resigned amid a public backlash to comments in whichhe referred to areas in the evacuation zone as a "dead cities."

Write to Toko Sekiguchi at toko.sekiguchi@dowjones.com

Quân Sử Việt Nam (TOP)