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Enormous potential

Energy specialists say that Vietnam's major sources of energy are coal, gas, and hydropower and its coal reserves are crucial. At a depth of 300m and more, Vietnam's coal reserves total around 3.8 billion tonnes, with 3.5 billion tonnes alone in the Quang Ninh Basin. For economic, technical, and environmental reasons, not all of this coal can be extracted, but an estimated 2.5 billion tonnes will be at Vietnam's disposal over the next 50-80 years, if 30 million tonnes of raw coal are mined each year. Natural gas reserves are around 680 billion cu.m, with 590 billion cu.m of non-associated gas. It will take around 30 years for Vietnam to pump out this huge reserve, given an average 18-20 billion cu.m per year. Vietnam's hydropower plants can potentially generate a maximum 120 billion KWh, with a design capacity of 31,000MW. For economic, technical, and environmental reasons the energy output of these plants may drop to 75-80 billion KWh, with a corresponding design capacity of 18,000-20,000MW. Industry specialists believe, however, the technical potential of hydropower plants will be used up within the next two decades, and no more large hydropower projects are planned once the Son La hydropower plant begins operation. On the positive side, hydropower is a renewable source of energy that can be exploited for several decades. In addition to these three main sources, other energy sources include geothermal, wind, and solar energy. Low temperatures beneath Vietnam mean geothermal energy may generate only 200-400MW by 2020. Wind power in Vietnam, which is fairly high in Southeast Asia, is low worldwide and may reach 400MW by 2020. Solar energy is still costly in Vietnam and is best suited for using in rural and remote areas. Renewable energy sources are still largely untapped in Vietnam, but they will play an increasingly important role in the Government's energy policies within the next years.

 Other energy sources still needed

Today, the total design capacity of existing hydropower plants in Vietnam is about 11,000MW. Vietnam produced 42 billion KWh of power in 2004, more than five times more than in 1990. As part of the Government's plan to transform Vietnam into an industrialized country by 2020 with an average gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 7.2-8 percent a year, the demand will skyrocket. Demand for electricity is expected to reach 93 billion KWh by 2010, 201 billion KWh by 2020, and 326 billion KWh by 2030, according to the Ministry of Industry. At the same time, Vietnam is only predicted to produce 165 billion KWh by 2020 and 208 billion KWh by 2030, which would mean a shortage of 36 billion KWh by 2020, and nearly 120 billion KWh by 2030. Other energy sources are clearly needed, and nuclear power has been discussed in the Party's and State's energy development strategy. Alternate energy sources will use scientific and technological potential to improve the environment as well as residents' health. Industry specialists assume that Vietnam has great potential for developing nuclear power. International nuclear energy groups and other organizations have been willing to help Vietnam. The Vietnam Alternate Energy Institute, the leading institute of its kind in Vietnam, was founded nearly 30 years and has developed steadily since then. One of the biggest challenges for Vietnam' nuclear power development may be in creating a team of nuclear power specialists. Other difficulties lie in Vietnam's limited technical infrastructure and investment sources, and the lack of long-range policies for alternate energy sources, particularly nuclear energy

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