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Indonesia to press ahead with nuclear power despite protests JAKARTA - Indonesia is pressing ahead with plans to construct nuclear power plants on the islands of Java and Madura, despite strong protests, mostly from environmental organizations. Facing spiraling energy demand and soaring global oil prices, Indonesia has been considering a number of alternatives to generate electricity and nuclear power is among them.

"A technology and economic study has been done and we have come to a conclusion that these nuclear power plants are very visible for Indonesia," Research and Technology Minister Kusmayanto Kadiman said in an interview with Kyodo News. "Nuclear energy is one of the cheapest now, especially after oil prices have soared. With rough calculations, the only source that can beat this is water," Kadiman was quoted by Kyodo as saying.

The minister said priority will be put on the construction of nuclear power plants in Ujung Lemahabang on the Muria Peninsula on the northern coast of Central Java Province about 450 kilometers east of Jakarta. Nearby Mt. Muria is a volcano, but it has been dormant for 3,000 years. "On this 600-hectare area, you can easily accommodate four nuclear power plants and if each has a capacity between 1,000 and 1,500 megawatts, you can have a nuclear power plant area with a capacity of between 4,000 and 6,000 megawatts," he said.

The other site envisioned is in Bangkalan Regency on Madura in East Java Province, north of densely-populated Java. In 2001, a technical agreement was formed among 13 countries, including Indonesia, under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency and they jointly constructed a 200-mw nuclear technology facility to desalinate seawater in Madura.

Those two places, the minister said, were selected because of their closeness to the market and from ''geological considerations.'' They are far from the sources of potential natural disasters such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. "Java is the hungriest place for electricity and reports say that 60 percent of the energy consumption of Indonesia is on Java,'' he added.

Under the plan, Indonesia will invite companies to bid for the project in 2008 or 2009, followed by a construction start in 2009 to meet a target of operating its first nuclear power plant in 2016. Companies from France, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States, as well as domestic energy company Medco Corp., have expressed interest in investing in the project, according to the minister.

Public acceptance

The government, however, must overcome its biggest obstacle -- public acceptance. "Public acceptance is a crucial factor. We don't want that when we invite those foreign investors and they come with their technology, protest rallies take place every day," Kadiman said. "We don't hesitate to talk to people," he added, referring to the government's successful efforts to ensure people on Madura that by using nuclear technology, seawater could be converted into fresh water, salt and electricity for the island.

Public campaigns, using prominent public figures, have been launched in printed and electronic media over the past several months. The IAEA, according to Kadiman, has also backed the plan after conducting a site study and will support Indonesia in the areas of capacity-building and human resources development. He admitted there is strong opposition from environmental organizations such as Greenpeace that warn building a nuclear power plant on Java would be folly because of the poor enforcement of safety standards and susceptibility to earthquakes.

"Governments such as Indonesia should not fall into a trap being held out by the nuclear lobby," Nur Hidayati, energy campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said. "There is a need for the Indonesian government to reflect on what happened in Chernobyl before deciding to continue with its plans to build nuclear power plants in Indonesia,'' she added.

A security treaty signed in mid-November between Australian and Indonesia, which includes nuclear development for peaceful purposes, is only in the interest of Canberra, which wants to sell uranium to Indonesia, she said. "Australia itself doesn't have any nuclear power plants."

Kadiman challenged the opposition, giving an example that after a major earthquake hit the provinces of Central Java and Yogyakarta in May, the country's four nuclear research facilities in Jakarta, the West Java provincial capital Bandung and satellite city Serpong, as well as in Yogyakarta, were safe.

The Jakarta facility is a laboratory for radiation technology research, while the other three facilities have reactors and are used for scientific and technological research and development in various fields, with the exception of arms. "We did a total, intensive, inspection and found that nothing had happened, so this proves that our security factor in the construction (of a nuclear facility) meets safety standards," he said.

Under the current plan, Kadiman said, the government wants long-term contracts with investors to include technology and how to handle spent fuel. "From the economic point of view, it is too expensive to have your own reprocessing plant,'' the minister said, stressing Indonesia has no plan to reprocess the waste from nuclear reactors. "Secondly, you will be attracting international attention if you have your own reprocessing plant, because it means you also have enrichment capability," he added.

On technology, Indonesia is eyeing several types, including the pebble-bed reactor, an advanced nuclear reactor design that claims a dramatically higher level of safety and efficiency. The technology is being developed by China and South Africa. According to Kadiman, with pebble-bed technology, even possible terrorist attacks can be overcome.

"The process in a nuclear power plant will automatically stop if terrorists attack," he said. Plans to build nuclear power plants were first raised in the mid-1990s under the Suharto regime. Then, the government conducted a feasibility study into constructing 12 nuclear power plants, but the plan was shelved indefinitely due to criticism from environmentalists and the Asian regional economic crisis in 1997.

Indonesia is Southeast Asia's only member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, but its oil output has fallen in recent years to about one million barrels per day amid flagging investment.

Posted in Nuclear power @ 17 November 2006 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink

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