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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs        17  March 2011

Catastrophe clouds Indonesia nuclear plans

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If a nation as technologically advanced as Japan is struggling to contain a nuclear catastrophe, what chance does Indonesia have of safely operatinga nuclear plant?

That was the question posed on Wednesday by experts, activists and politicians in response to officials' claims a day earlier that it was safe to build a nuclear power plant here.

Sony Keraf, a former environment minister and member of the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), said the unfolding nuclear crisis in Fukushima, Japan, was sufficient reason to end all talk of building a similar plant in Indonesia.

"This debate is over. I'm not talking about the scientific reasons but simply using common sense here," he said.

"Developed countries like Germany and Russia, which are known for their high level of technology, have stated they will review their nuclear power plants, so why is the Indonesian government acting otherwise? It's strange."

Sony also cited Indonesia's poor safety culture of lack of discipline compared to Japan, particularly in regard to natural disaster mitigation, as further arguments against building a nuclear plant here.

Alvin Lie, a senior politician from the ruling coalition's National Mandate Party (PAN), echoed the sentiment. "Even Germany is rethinking its power plants," he said, "so why are we so eager to develop one here?"

He added that if the government was really keen to push ahead with the plan, the officials backing it should be made to live near the reactors. "If not, we should build the nuclear plant near the State Palace or the House of Representatives," Alvin said. "Would they go for that?"

The government has proposed two sites in Bangka-Belitung province to host nuclear power plants. It plans to build four reactors, each requiring an outlay of up to Rp 20 trillion ($2.3 billion), by 2025. The plants are expected to produce a combined 4,000 megawatts of electricity, or 25 percent of Java's power demand.

The government also claims the reactors will be of the fourth-generation type - a technology currently in the research phase and only expected to be commercially viable by 2030 at the earliest.

Iwan Kurniawan, a nuclear expert, said the government's claim that it would build fourth-generation reactors made no sense.

"In addition, are there any safe sites in this country for a nuclear power plant?" he said. "[Bangka-Belitung] experiences frequent earthquakes of magnitude 4.9 and up, but the government claims it's safe. But given the potential of damage from an earthquake, it's still too risky."

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