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Wednesday, July 23, 2014, 15:12

US Senate panel okays Vietnam nuke pact

By Associated Press

 US Senate panel okays Vietnam nuke pact
Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung waves as he leaves at the end of the Nuclear Security Summit (NSS) in The Hague on March 25, 2014. (Photo / AFP)

WASHINGTON - The Senate Foreign Relations Committee has approved an agreement on civilian nuclear cooperation between the US and Vietnam, as Washington looks to expand its relationship with its former Southeast Asian foe.

The agreement approved Tuesday by the committee would allow US firms into Vietnam's expanding market for nuclear power. The US and Vietnamese governments reached the agreement last October, and it was approved by President Barack Obama in February of this year. It now has to be endorsed by the full Senate. The prospects for passage remain uncertain.

The Democratic-led committee, which oversees American foreign policy, passed the agreement by a voice vote despite concerns from nonproliferation activists and some lawmakers that it lacks a blanket restriction on Vietnam enriching uranium itself or reprocessing plutonium. Those capabilities can be used for development of nuclear weapons.

Instead, Vietnam, signed a non-binding memorandum with the US saying it does not intend to seek those capabilities and will obtain the nuclear fuel it needs from the international market. Vietnam is also party to various international nuclear security and nonproliferation treaties.

The US nuclear industry, which faces growing international competition, is eager for passage of the agreement. Vietnam plans to develop up to 10,000 megawatts of nuclear generating capacity by 2030 to meet its growing demand for electricity. It has already signed contracts with Russia to build two reactors by 2020 and with Japan to build another two.

The Washington-based Nuclear Energy Institute, which promotes nuclear technology, estimates that the agreement could generate US$10 billion to US$20 billion dollars in business for US firms.

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