Alumni mobilize campaign on nuclear power

In October 2011, EarthRights alumni Siriporn Kotawinon (2007) and Phairoh Suchinphram (2008) organized a public seminar for villagers in Kalasin province as part of a local community campaign aimed at raising awareness about the impact of the government’s plans to build a nuclear power plant in the province.

The purpose of the campaign is to provide an alternative to the information campaign about the construction plans launched by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT). The government’s campaign has previously been the only source of information for local residents about the project, but Siriporn and Phairoh said that this campaign has been both one-sided and insufficient. The lack of information on such a serious issue was what led the two alumni to launch their awareness campaign on the impacts of nuclear power projects, which the seminar in Kalasin province was part of.

According to the government’s Power Development Plan (PDP), covering the period of 2010-2030, a total of 29 new power plants are to be constructed in the country during this time. This includes nine coal plants, nine natural gas power plants and five nuclear power plants. The government’s aim with the PDP is to increase the country’s capacity for electricity production from 28,000 megawatts in 2009 to almost 53,000 by 2030. The first of the five nuclear power plants is, according to the PDP, expected to be operational by 2020.

A report released by the EGAT concerning the locations of the nuclear power plants, which have been chosen based on a number of technical, economic and environmental factors, has identified five provinces as suitable for the purpose; Uboratchathani, Nakhonsawan, Trad, Surat-thani, and Chumphon. According to the report the area where the first of the nuclear projects is expected to be commenced will be in either Nakhonsawan or Ubonratchathani province. However, despite the fact that Kalasin province is not actually mentioned in the PDP as a chosen area for nuclear power plant construction, surveys for this very purpose have nevertheless been conducted by EGAT in the province since the beginning of 2011. Among these surveys was a technical experiment on village farm land in the Huey Mek district of Kalasin province. The Huey Mek district is located near the Lao Pao dam from where water is expected to be diverted from the Mekong into the dam reservoir for the purpose of cooling down reactors. Furthermore, the EGAT has throughout this time been launching information campaigns in the province, as well as organizing meetings and study trips for local leaders and village representatives, where the expected benefits from having a local nuclear facility have been highlighted.

The public seminar arranged by the alumni in Kalasin province in October 2011 was the first meeting in the area aimed at providing local villagers with an alternative to EGAT’s perspective on the possible impacts of having a nuclear power plant in the province, encouraging them to question the information provided by authorities. “The villagers have the right to know both sides of the story and it is important for them to clearly understand the information provided to them. They should be active players in the decision making process and should not only be given one-sided information,” said Siriporn.

The seminar was hosted by a local secondary school in one of the areas where surveys have been conducted. In this particular community, the nuclear project site is located in the center of the area where most of the crops that people depend on are grown. Apart from hosting the event, the local secondary school collaborated with the alumni in raising local awareness about the impact of nuclear power through learning activities and by encouraging their students to share their views about the nuclear project with the elder generations.

According to Siriporn, encouraging local stakeholders to drive the process is essential in order to create a successful campaign. Even though NGOs do a lot of good work, it is not always a feasible strategy to work as an official NGO, when trying to build a relationship and gain the confidence of the local community. The reason for this is that official institutions sometimes create a negative perception of the NGOs by portraying them as external actors who are not actually part of the local community and who are not serving the interests of the local people. In such cases an academic approach combined with local grassroots mobilization is more acceptable to the community and will be less subject to attacks from authorities. For these reasons, local academic institutions and resource personnel have been identified as key partners for the campaign in Kalasin. “Due to limited funds and labor resources, we are first of all trying to engage small groups of local people and to help them establish a starting point from where they can develop their ideas. These groups are made up of local stakeholders, who will hopefully be able to take the lead and sustain their activities themselves in the long run”, said Siriporn.

Siriporn also emphasized that because the project in Kalasin has not yet been fully implemented, this provides the stakeholders with a significant advantage, because they will be able to shape their campaign as events unfold. This improves the chances of having an impact on the final outcome. However, since all information about the project has not yet been disclosed by the EGAT this also sets serious requirements for the campaigns ability to adjust to any changes that might occur as more information becomes available. In order to meet this challenge, the alumni say the next step is to pressure the EGAT into disclosing all information about the nuclear project so that local residents have the chance to react if their area is chosen as one of the final locations for apower plant. “Regardless of whether Kalasin has been chosen as one of the nuclear project sites or not, the local people are at this point entitled to know what the consequences of such a decision would be and must be given the chance to react to such a decision. The people must be involved in every step of the process”, said Siriporn.