The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog


U-turn of nuclear energy in SEA after Fukushima

Posted in Energy and Human Security by NTSblog on February 20, 2013
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The immediate aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear crisis in 2011 witnessed a significant cooling down of the nuclear renaissance in Southeast Asia. Countries that had announced their nuclear plans immediately suspended or delayed the construction of their first nuclear power plant, such as Thailand and Malaysia; those that decided to continue their nuclear energy plans kept them low-key. As the reverberation of the Fukushima crisis gradually abates, nuclear power plans in the region have begun to resume again. Vietnam and Indonesia are forging ahead with their nuclear plans while the Philippines is reconsidering nuclear energy as an option.

The revival of the interest in nuclear energy is driven by the continued growth of the region’s energy demands and the pro-nuclear energy development despite the fact that the Fukushima crisis revealed the safety risks accompanying with nuclear energy. Indonesia and Vietnam already face the risk of serious power shortages, which threatens their economic development. moreover, the region relies on fossil fuels as primary energy sources while regional demands far exceed supplies, as a result of which the heavy dependence on energy imports presents a big challenge to the energy security. Besides renewable energy, nuclear energy provides an alternative to improve the region’s energy independence.

The recent developments in Japan as well as in the region help Southeast Asian governments justify their decision to resume their nuclear plans. Since May 2012, the Japanese government gradually reopened some of the nuclear reactors that were closed after the crisis. Japan’s new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe supports use of nuclear energy in Japan. The investigation report of the Fukushima crisis noted that the disaster was man-made and should be preventable. This conclusion gives rise to the hope that possibility of nuclear accident is low as long as safety measures are strictly implemented. After the Fukushima crisis, nuclear safety has been frequently discussed at regional forums, such as such 2012 APEC and the 30th ASEAN Ministers on Energy Meeting in Phnom Penh. Coordination and information sharing have been identified as key channels for enhancing nuclear safety in the region.

Although Singapore government is not pursuing nuclear energy as an alternative fuel for now given that current nuclear energy technologies are unsuitable, the reactivation of nuclear energy plans in neighboring countries would have important implications for the island state. Radiation released from the melted reactors in Fukushima was found as far as the US west coast. Given its proximity to the locations of the prospective nuclear power plants in Vietnam and Indonesia, Singapore will be threatened by nuclear radiation in case nuclear accident happens.

It is necessary to integrate Information sharing provides a key channel for Singapore to stay informed about development of nuclear energy in its neighbours. Moreover, the role of regional forums in coordinating nuclear safety should be utilized and strengthened. Singapore has taken steps towards in this direction, by hosting ASEM Seminar on nuclear safety in June 2012. Education is important as nuclear energy is still new to the public in this region. Since it is very likely to see the first nuclear reactors in the region in the near future, it is crucial for Singapore to get ready for the new development.

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