US, Vietnam agree to nuclear science exchange

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WASHINGTON, Sep 13 (Reuters) The United States said it agreed to a nuclear science exchange with Vietnam to share up-to-date nuclear safety and nonproliferation practices with the communist nation's civilian power program.

The US Department of Energy said yesterday the agreement calls for scientists from its Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge national laboratories to work with their Vietnamese counterparts on procedures for reactor operations, radiation protection, environmental monitoring and radioactive waste disposition.

No transfer of technology or equipment would take place.

The two former enemies will also collaborate on nuclear safeguards and regulatory controls under the agreement signed by the department's National Nuclear Safety Administration (NNSA) and Vietnam's Ministry of Science and Technology.

Vietnam is the ninth country to reach such a civilian nuclear power agreement with the United States, according to NNSA. The others are Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Morocco, Thailand, Romania, Mexico and Argentina.

The United States has been courting closer relations with Vietnam in hopes of nudging Hanoi into joining the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

In December, Washington made Vietnam eligible to receive nonlethal military equipment for humanitarian disaster relief and search and rescue systems.

Hanoi also participated in an Asia-Pacific forum of the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) last March. US President George W. Bush established the PSI in 2003 as part of the US response to the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Vietnam plans to build two or three nuclear power plants with total capacity of 8,000 megawatts and at a cost of billion by 2025. Preparations are under way for the first plant, a 3.4 billion dollars 2,000-megawatt facility that would be operational by 2020.

The Bush administration announced the exchange with Vietnam as US officials and nuclear experts toured a five-megawatt reactor at North Korea's Yongbyon nuclear complex.

In February, Pyongyang said it would disable its nuclear facilities as a step toward abandoning its nuclear program.

Reuters SZ VP0417

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