Safety fears delay work on Thai nuclear reactor

BANGKOK, Feb 9 (AFP) - Thailand has ordered US company General Atomics (GA) to halt building work on a nuclear research reactor amid fears for the safety of nearby residents, officials said Tuesday.

Deputy Minister of Science, Technology and the Environment Pornthep Tachapaibul made the decision after consulting residents worried by the potential dangers of the planned 10 megawatt reactor in central Nakhon Nayok province.

He found that plans for the reactor, to be used for medical research, had never been examined by safety inspectors as stipulated in the government's 1997 contract with GA.

After the meeting with residents on Monday, Pornthep suspended work until GA, which is building the reactor for the Office of Atomic Energy for Peace (OAEP), completes a safety report.

"During the safety investigation, the Office of Atomic Energy for Peace will suspend the project to build the neuclear reactor until the sub-committee on safety recieves the report," an official said.

OAEP secretary-general Kriengsak Bhadrakom said residents could take his word that the reactor would be safe.

"It (the lack of a sefety assessment) does not mean the reactor is not safe. We will not build any reactor without a safety report," he said.

GA won the 3.3 billion baht (89.2 million dollar) contract to build the reactor to replace a two-megawatt reactor in Bangkok which has been operating for 36 years.

Kriengsak said the reactor was scheduled to be finished in 2001 but that would now be delayed.