Nuclear safety to top ministerial agenda

Nuclear safety to top ministerial agenda

Singapore: Nuclear safety issues are expected to feature prominently in talks among South-East Asian ministers here on Thursday as more countries look to nuclear energy as an alternative amid soaring oil prices, diplomatic sources said.

The Association of South-East Asian Nations (Asean) energy ministers will hold the one-day meeting—first among themselves and then with counterparts from China, Japan and South Korea.

Energy ministers from Australia, India and New Zealand will join the meeting later in the day, the Singapore government said. Diplomatic sources said a key topic will be safety issues following a move by several countries in the region to build nuclear plants to meet growing electricity needs and reduce dependence on oil and gas. Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand have announced plans to tap nuclear energy, but environmental activists have warned about risks as the region does not have the expertise to operate such plants.

There is also a problem of who will fund the plants.

“Our message to the energy ministers is that they should forget nuclear power technology," said Nur Hidayati, climate and energy campaigner for South-East Asia at the environmental group Greenpeace.

“Instead of wasting their time on this costly and dangerous technology, they should now start to look at renewable energy potentials in order to really solve the long-term problem of energy security and address climate change."

Hidayati said operating nuclear power plants was risky as the region is prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and governments are unprepared to deal with leakage. Greenpeace also doubts governments’ transparency regarding nuclear programmes.

“Safety issues do not only depend on technology per se... They also depend highly on the reporting mechanism and monitoring which are very much lacking," Hidayati said. But officials said generating nuclear power is necessary to diversify the energy mix, reduce vulnerability to volatile oil prices and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Kurujit Nakornthap, Thailand’s deputy permanent secretary of energy, told an Asean energy business forum here on Wednesday that Thailand will go ahead with plans to generate 4,000MW of nuclear power by 2020. The decision to include atomic energy in its long-term development plan was made because nuclear energy is recognized as efficient, cost-effective and emitting no carbon dioxide.

To address risk concerns, Kurujit said the government needs seven years from 2007 to develop safety standards, establish the regulatory framework and train the personnel.