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Energy Security
August 26, 2007
Nuclear plans require close scrutiny

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations ended this week’s energy security dialogue in Singapore facing some stark realities: they need to set aside years of lofty rhetoric and act to cushion the economic blow of high oil prices, and they will have to look hard at introducing nuclear energy to the region.

Beyond the handshakes, photo opportunities and pledges to keep talking that have characterized past gatherings, one takeaway for members of the 10-nation bloc following the 25th Asean Ministers on Energy Meeting is that global oil prices aren’t about to come off any time soon.

Governments need to take action urgently — even if it means picking up the gauntlet on civilian nuclear power, a development that could raise the tone of opposition from voters and environmentalists in coming years.

There has been little headway made in solving the energy shortage problem even as the urgency grows, with Southeast Asia’s known oil reserves on a steady decline and Malaysia expected to lose its status as the region’s last net exporter within three years.

So far there’s been a lot of talk but little action. A long-time plan to put together jointly held strategic oil stockpiles received no mention this week, with no Asean member having ever clarified where such a reserve would be sited.

Instead, the bloc now wants members to share information on their "respective oil stockpiling policies" as individual governments start mulling rainy-day reserves.

And ministers have tacitly acknowledged that grand plans to build two regional networks — the Trans-Asean Gas Pipeline and a cross-border electricity grid — aren’t about to happen overnight.

Some governments are now looking at the possibility of nuclear power, perhaps because they recognize that efforts to solve their energy problems via conventional means are getting nowhere.

On Friday, Vietnam — with its first oil refinery still to take shape after decades of delay — put forward plans for a nuclear power plant.

The country will build a 1,000-megawatt facility in 2020, its Vice Minister of Trade and Industry said.

"We have limited resources and there could be a shortage of energy in the future. We are therefore planning to develop a nuclear power plant," Le Duong Quang told Dow Jones Newswires in an interview.

Thailand this week has also made known its own nuclear ambitions — a 4,000-megawatt plant also to start in 2020 — as has Indonesia, which is under pressure to provide adequate electricity in the face of rising fuel prices.

Perhaps nuclear power is not the most prudent option for Indonesia: it’s located along the so-called "Pacific Ring of Fire," an area of frequent seismic activity and volcanic eruptions encircling the basin of the Pacific Ocean.

"The result will be more problems and less energy," US activist group Greenpeace said in a report Thursday, calling the Asean nuclear proposals "very dangerous." Dow Jones reports

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