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Development of nuclear power in Indonesia: Stop or go? -Oleh Hanan Nugroho

July 16th, 2010 5:39 pm



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Hanan Nugroho, Jakarta

Indonesia has made great efforts to prepare capacity to develop nuclear power plant.

A National Committee for the Investigation of Radioactivity was established in 1954. In 1957, Indonesia became a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The first nuclear reactor (TRIGA Mark II) started operating in Bandung in 1965, followed by the construction of the Yogyakarta Nuclear Complex (1968). Other nuclear research facilities were built:

Pasar Jumat (1966), Serpong (Siwabessy Multipurpose Research Reactor: 30 MW; established in 1992) and the Uranium Mining Exploration Research Unit was built in West Kalimantan.

A study on the introduction of nuclear power, supported by the Government of Italy, was conducted in 1978. The study was updated in the mid 1980s with help from the IAEA, US, France and Italy.

In 1989, the Indonesian Energy Coordinating Board (BAKOREN) decided to undertake a new study to include the Muria Peninsula (Central Java) as a candidate site for the first Indonesian nuclear power station. In 1991, the government contracted NEWJEC (Japan) for 4.5 years to do a comprehensive study on the development of a 7,000 MW nuclear plant.

Another study “Comprehensive Assessment of Different Energy Sources for Electricity Generation in Indonesia”, prepared by the National Atomic Energy Agency (BATAN) and some other ministries — again assisted by IAEA — was completed in 2002.

All of the studies concluded that Indonesia (Java) should go ahead with construction and use of nuclear power plant.

In addition to studies, we have developed human resources, for instance by establishing a nuclear science and technology program at the University of Gadjah Mada, Bandung Institute of Technology, and Polytechnic Institute of Nuclear Technology (PoINT-BATAN). During the 1980s and 1990s — when former president Habibie was the minister of research & technology — many young Indonesians were sent abroad to study nuclear power. Hundreds of government officials, parliament members, NGOs and private company staff have also been sent abroad to learn about nuclear power development in foreign countries, to South Korea for instance.

Existing legislation supports the development of nuclear power in Indonesia. The 1997 Nuclear Energy Law gives guidance on the commercial construction, operation and decommissioning of nuclear power plant. The 2007 law on National Long-Term Development Planning 2005-2025 stipulated that nuclear power operations should commence in Indonesia between 2015-2019.

However, despite these considerable efforts and while demand for electricity is skyrocketing, the prospects for construction of nuclear power plant in Indonesia still remain unclear. While preparation for constructing the first nuclear power plant would theoretically take about one decade, much time has been wasted on unproductive debates for and against, delaying further the start of construction of the country’s first nuclear power station.

Some argue that since Indonesia is rich in energy resources it would not need nuclear development, that local people reject any proposals to develop nuclear power in their area, that Indonesians are not capable of handling such sophisticated technology and that many are worried about post-construction issues such as decommissioning.

Among the least discussed aspects of the debate is the question of fairness in the distribution of energy consumption.

The only island in Indonesia that actually needs nuclear power is Java, which is an energy-short island. With 135 million people, Java is one of the most populated islands in the world, consuming more than 80 percent of the nation’s electricity consumption.

In terms of energy balance Java is similar to the East Asian industrial nations (South Korea, Japan and Taiwan which have almost no indigenous energy reserves) rather than other islands in Indonesia.

Java imports almost all of its energy requirements including crude oil and oil products from other regions in Indonesia or from foreign countries; natural gas is now imported from Sumatra, and most of the coal needed for Java’s coal-fired electricity power stations and industry is imported from Kalimantan and other islands.

Energy prices in Indonesia are heavily subsidized, meaning that almost all of the energy subsidies go to people living in Java. With other regions in Indonesia now demanding improved energy supply, surely it will be unfair that government to maintain the privilege for people in Java to continue to enjoy the most reliable and cheapest energy services, while other islands – including the energy producing ones — are experiencing severe energy shortages.

To be fair, Java cannot any longer reject the proposition that the island needs to become more independent for its energy supplies.

Nuclear power is the most available possible option Java can deploy to put its electricity supply and demand into better long-term balance. Java has a more educated population that can be made ready to understand the benefits and risks associated with nuclear power.

It will be unfair if the economically rich region of Java continues to enjoy subsidized electricity and fuels at the burden of other regions, while they need to develop their energy resources to grow their
economies.

Wherever it happens in the world, construction of nuclear power is usually accompanied by protests, but strong leadership would bring the construction of nuclear power into reality. Java will surely experience a larger and larger energy deficit with recurrent electricity supply crises. The development of nuclear power would be the best answer to overcome this severe long-term problem which is already holding back the economy.

For more than five decades Indonesia has devoted significant effort to gain expertise in nuclear power technology. Unless the country moves further towards nuclear development to answer the country’s long-term energy shortage, all this expensively accumulated know-how on nuclear power will have been a waste of time and money.

The 1999 Nuclear Energy Law and that of 2009 both set out guidelines that a national team for the preparation of nuclear development should be established under a presidential decree, before nuclear power development can take place In the spirit of “Indonesia Can” hopefully the current government can be propelled into making nuclear development a reality in Indonesia.


The writer is senior energy planner and economist with Bappenas. The opinions expressed are personal.

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