Ninh Thuan villagers remain in limbo without nuclear power plant decision

By Viet Quoc, Viet Tuan   June 8, 2022 | 10:39 pm PT
Ninh Thuan villagers remain in limbo without nuclear power plant decision
Nguyen Van Luan feels uncertain about his future as authorities have yet to reach a final say on a nuclear power plant project in Vinh Truong Village, Ninh Thuan. Photo by VnExpress/Viet Quoc
For over a decade people in two Ninh Thuan Province villages have been waiting for a final decision by the government on two proposed nuclear power plants.

But with their lands remaining frozen, their patience is running out.

Vinh Truong village in Thuan Nam District, about 15 km away from Phan Rang Town, is on the coast. It is where the Ninh Thuan 1 nuclear power plant was supposed to be built, and is home to hundreds of families who live in dilapidated houses.

Decades ago, when news broke that a nuclear power plant would be constructed in the village in the south central province, Nguyen Van Luan, 53, and many other locals prepared to move elsewhere, but the project never commenced.

Six years ago the National Assembly decided to suspend the project. The suspension was not what disappointed the people the most; it was the fact that there was no compensation for all those years of waiting.

Over 8,000 square meters of shrimp farms were among the lands to be acquired for the project, meaning Luan could not invest any more money in it and can only keep it afloat, just enough to put food on the table for his family of six.

He says: "It has been many years, but I still don't know what my future is. I live in uncertainty, uncertain whether I would leave or stay."

Huynh Nghia Long, 44, who lives a few houses away from him, says over two hectares of his family's agricultural land have been lying fallow for years since they are also included in the plant’s plans.

"I cannot do anything with it ... to make some money."

The villagers of Vinh Truong mostly make a living by fishing, their livelihoods depending on Mother Nature. But over the years their lives have become fickle.

Nguyen Van Nien, 71, a fisherman, says months of survey activities in the village, including rock drilling, ruined the coral reefs years ago.

After losing their habitats, many sea creatures fled and their numbers have never quite recovered, he says.

"As the number of fish dwindles, we catch fewer of them and life is tough. We waited for the government to relocate us, but that day never came."

The nuclear project, approved by the National Assembly in 2009, entailed two plants with a total capacity of 4,000 MW - one requiring 440 ha in Vinh Truong and the other on 380 ha in Thai An village of Ninh Hai District.

After several delays the National Assembly decided to suspend the project.

But late last month the House's Economic Commission proposed reviving it.

Nguyen Thanh Du, head of Vinh Truong village, says it is the indecisiveness of authorities about whether to continue or scrap the project that has affected the lives of over 250 families with 1,000 members.

Locals agreed to the project at first thinking it would foster the nation’s economic development. But after so many years their patience has run out. For over a decade they have not received any support from the government.

Du says many lands have been abandoned for years due to this state of limbo. People cannot invest in them or grow crops on them, meaning a loss of income. Several families, who are already poor themselves, had to borrow from banks and now cannot pay off their debts.

The consequences are not just economic.

Around 100 families, whose children are adults, cannot divide land plots to build their own homes and have no choice but to live in the same small houses with the rest of the family.

"Young couples have to live in tiny spaces with their parents and grandparents, which can be suffocating," Du says.

Even the dead in the village cannot be buried properly since the graveyard is also part of the power plant plan, he says.

"People have to take the dead to faraway mountains or unclaimed lands for burial."

Du says all he wants is for the National Assembly and government to make a decision on the Ninh Thuan 1 power plant so that people could have their lives back.

If authorities decide to go ahead, they would need to help the people relocate, and if the project is scrapped, there needs to be compensation for the people to restart their lives, he says.

About 35 km to the north of Vinh Truong, over 800 families with 2,800 members in Thai An village face the same predicament.

It was the site proposed for the Ninh Thuan 2 plant, and hundreds of hectares of land near the coast that have traditionally been used to grow grapes and apples were taken over by authorities in 2010.

"People cannot even build houses, which has upended their lives," Nguyen Thanh My, chairman of the Vinh Hai village people’s committee, says.

The village administration has asked authorities for policies to benefit people living on lands intended for the power plant, allowing them to exercise land rights so that they could earn money to sustain themselves.

Tran Quoc Nam, chairman of the Ninh Thuan Province people’s committee, says ever since the National Assembly suspended the project, locals are unsure about what the future holds for them.

The lack of a decision has impacted many aspects of their lives, he says.

He says a clear decision will help local authorities plan their next move. For example, if it is decided that construction of the nuclear power plant will begin in another 50 years, the province can approve investment in other projects and fields, such as eco-tourism, he says.

There might be different plans if the project is to begin in another 30 years, he adds.

The debate over Vietnam’s first nuclear power projects in Ninh Thuan resurfaced this year after it made a commitment at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The Economic Committee said in a report last month that the country should consider reviving its nuclear plans to ensure energy security and economic development since nuclear energy is clean in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

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