The serendipitous timing of this announcement on April 14 2016 coincided with the start of Lao New Year celebrations. It was reported on Rosatom's website and a day later on the World Nuclear News site that Russian state nuclear corporation Rosatom and the Lao Ministry of Energy and Mines signed a memorandum to cooperate on planning and creating nuclear plants and research reactors in Laos.
Photo Credit: Rosatom
The news may be a surprise to some however in actuality it comes on the heels of some successful lobbying on the part of Rosatom. In 2014, Rosatom organized Atomex Asia in Vietnam where Laos and several other countries were in attendance. A year later in August 2015, Rosatom was in negotiations with Laos regarding nuclear energy development. The topic of nuclear energy is not new for Laos, as it was at the ASEAN Summit in 2007 that members acknowledged and pledged support for nuclear power. Nonetheless, Russia is seen as being a key player in helping push nuclear energy in the region.
Nuclear power has its detractors but it also has lots of potential positives. Southeast Asian economies and populations continue to grow. Nuclear energy offers a way to help power that growth without the harmful emissions of fossil fuels and without the controversial environmental impact of hydroelectric dams. It would also help with meeting environmental targets without hindering the economy. Laos continues to market itself as the "battery of southeast Asia" with its continued construction of hydroelectric dams throughout the country. Its interest in nuclear is a sign that it is diversifying its energy portfolio.
Currently, the only other Asian countries to have both nuclear power and weapons are Japan, China, Taiwan, South Korea, North Korea, India, and Pakistan. Meanwhile, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Philippines, and Malaysia each have a single research reactor. Many of these countries, including Laos, plan to increase the number of reactors in their respective countries.
The interest in nuclear energy in Asia is quite clear. At the Nuclear Power Asia 2016 convention that was held in January in Jakarta, Indonesia, had visitors, sponsors and exhibitors from over 20 countries.