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Abstract

This paper analyses the reasons why nuclear energy development in Indonesia is a bad idea in the post-Fukushima event era.
Journal of Geography and Regional Planning Vol. 5(1), pp. 1-5, 4 January, 2012
Available online at http://www.academicjournals.org/JGRP
DOI: 10.5897/JGRP11.092
ISSN 2070-1845 ©2012 Academic Journals
Review
The case against nuclear power development in
Indonesia
Alan Marshall
School of Management, Asian Institute of Technology, Klongluang, Pathumthani, Thailand.
E-mail: amarshall@ait.ac.th.
Accepted 14 December, 2011
Despite the ongoing environmental and health dangers related to the Fukushima I nuclear meltdowns in
Japan, some Asian nations are still entertaining the notion of developing nuclear power from scratch.
Indonesia is one such example. It has been said that Indonesia needs more power for its growing
industrial sectors. And the world as a whole needs eco-friendly power sources to stop climate change
reaching globally catastrophic levels. So, to encourage these endeavors, should Indonesia develop
nuclear power? The answer is ‘no’. If nuclear power is forced upon Indonesia by its Government and
industries, then the people there and their environment as well will not only be just as vulnerable to
climate change, they will also be subjected to costly catastrophic accidents, chronic radioactive
pollution and the threat of nuclear terrorism.
Key words: Indonesia, nuclear, energy, development, pollution, disaster.
INTRODUCTION
Indonesia’s nuclear energy plans
The rapidly developing nature of many East Asian
economies is making governments there concerned
about securing their future energy supplies (Manning,
2000; Lall, 2008). Indonesia‟s gross domestic product
(GDP) is forecast to grow at around 5 to 6% over the
coming decade (Handa and Kahsay, 2011) and the
power demand is rising at an average of about 9% per
year (Asif and Muneer, 2005). Because of such trends
region-wide, numerous East Asian countries have tried to
rethink and reinvigorate their power supply strategies in
order to circumvent problems associated with rising
domestic demand, climate change and the desire to
secure energy in a more self-sufficient way. Indonesia is
among those countries with a clear aim to develop new
power sources including nuclear power (Smith, 2007).
At this moment, given the impending initiation of an
Indonesian nuclear „New Build, there is a need to debate
whether the country should go forward with its plans. This
paper attempts to encourage this debate by clearly and
succinctly enunciating the reasons why Indonesia should
forego the nuclear power option.
Indonesia‟s main source of energy is its diesel-
operated power plants, along with coal plants and gas
plants. Together with these sources, both domestic and
international make up over 90% of Indonesias electricity
generation. This is a worry for the Indonesian
government for a number of reasons, since:
(1) It ties Indonesia‟s industrial future to the eventual
reduction of domestic reserves.
(2) It makes Indonesia dependent on the pricing policies
and geopolitical interests of certain supplier nations.
(3) It makes Indonesia a high greenhouse gas emitter.
For these reasons, Indonesia‟s energy plans involve the
development of an atomic power plant (with some four
working reactors within it) so that nuclear power will be
able to contribute around 2 to 5% of Indonesia‟s
electricity by 2025. So, what is wrong with 2 to 5%
nuclear?
NO SOLUTION TO CLIMATE CHANGE
Firstly, the 2 to 5% Indonesian nuclear power option may
contribute only very little to halting global climate change.
Perhaps this truth will, in due course, be uncovered by
2 J. Geogr. Reg. Plann.
Indonesian people if it were not for the ongoing promotion
of nuclear power by Indonesia‟s nuclear energy agency:
Badan Tenaga Atom Nasional (BATAN). BATAN publicly
advertises the need for nuclear power for climate change
reasons. 2 to 5% nuclear power, though, is far too small
to have any meaningful impact in slowing down the
greenhouse effect, especially given that oil, coal and gas
will still provide the bulk of Indonesia‟s electricity by 2025.
To produce a noticeable reduction in global carbon
dioxide emissions, a nuclear New Build strategy would
have to be worldwide, with at least 2,000 new nuclear
reactors splashed across the entire globe (Makhijani,
2002). This is a huge number when we recall that there
are only some 440 reactors operating today throughout
all the countries of the world and that only sixty more are
currently being built.
If BATAN continues to advertise the climate-saving
potential of nuclear power, then they will soon need to
admit that it will only work if there is an impossibly quick
expansion in nuclear power at the global level. However,
each and every atomic power plant takes some 12 to 15
years to get going; from the breaking of new ground to
the production of electricity. One of the reasons it is so
slow is that the safety checks are excruciatingly time-
consuming. In order to assure safe construction practices
by trustworthy contractors, a massive global nuclear New
Build would have to be staggered over many years (say
100 to 400 reactors per decade for 40 years). But even
such a staggered program of New Build is totally
unprecedented, and there had been a great risk of
compromising safety if it was to occur. If East Asian
states cooperatively embarked upon a massive nuclear
New Build whence new reactors are speedily built all
over the continent through the next 15 to 20 years, the
chances of catastrophe in the order of Fukushima and
Chernobyl increase many times, since all the safety
checks could not possibly be completed.
The saving grace is that no country is thinking of such a
massive nuclear expansion, let alone promoting it as
global imperative. China and India are certainly hoping to
expand their civil nuclear programmes but they will be far
short of building 100 to 400 reactors over the next
decades. They would not be able to afford them anyhow
and there would probably not be enough uranium on the
planet to keep them working (Meserve, 2004; Marshall,
2005; Shrader-Frechette, 2011).
As well as the problems indicated previously, it can
also be stated that the climate-saving potential of nuclear
power is somewhat of a myth. Whilst Indonesia‟s
proposed nuclear power plant might produce negligible
amounts of greenhouse gases during its working lifetime,
all the other stages before and after the operating phase
(like uranium mining, uranium enrichment, power plant
construction and nuclear waste management) will involve
the release of greenhouse gases in amounts almost
equivalent to gas or coal-powered plants (Smith, 2006,
2007; Caldicott, 2007; Shrader-Frechette, 2011).
The only reason that BATAN can promote nuclear power
as „climate-friendly‟ is by ignoring the rest of the nuclear
cycle.
BATAN currently works with other nuclear agencies
throughout the world to have nuclear energy introduced
as an eco-friendly option in any future carbon-accounting
scheme. If this comes to pass, then any nation building
nuclear power plants would have those plants counted in
their favour when their total greenhouse gas emissions
were tallied up. This would have two important
consequences:
(1) All sorts of subsidies would come to the assistance of
Indonesian nuclear power plant builders since a number
of international aid programs are trying to encourage
developing nations to go green as they develop energy
plans.
(2) If a uniform international carbon-trading mechanism
was set up; nations with nuclear power plants would end
up having a lot of carbon credits to trade. They could sell
these for profit or use them to offset their own
greenhouse gas-producing activities.
Despite all the money the nuclear industry worldwide
spends on lobbying governments to agree about the
environmental friendliness of nuclear power, they have
not been effective when it comes to enacting law or
signing treaties (Smith, 2006). Nobody who has built a
nuclear power station has yet been able to claim eco-
funds for doing so, and this situation looks unlikely to
change. Therefore, Indonesia is unlikely to get any
benefit--environmental or economic--from the supposed
climate-saving features of its future nuclear reactors.
INDONESIA’S FUTURE NUCLEAR WASTE
To get to that 2 to 5%, Indonesia will need to build and
operate around four nuclear reactors. Over the course of
a 50 to 60 year life time, these reactors will produce
some 5000 tons of radioactive waste, both low level and
high level, liquid as well as solid. All of it is dangerous
and life threatening. The high level waste can cause
instant physical harm and takes up to a million years to
decay. The low level waste can cause cancers if ingested
or inhaled and can last up to 300 years or longer
(Vandenbosch and Vandenbosch, 2007). Any electricity
produced by an Indonesian nuclear power plant in the
year 2025 will generate waste that will very probably still
be harmful in the year 20,025 AD.
There are two main management options that might be
able to be deal with Indonesia‟s projected radioactive
waste. The first option would be for the high level waste
(used uranium rods, for instance) to be transferred to
another country. Russia, for example, seems particularly
keen on the business of taking other nations‟ nuclear
waste (Dawson and Darst, 2005). The second option is
for Indonesia to store and dispose of its own waste. Both
these options are fraught with problems as outlined as
follows:
Option 1 would involve the dangerous transport of
radioactive material through third countries or across
international seas, thus inviting thieves and terrorists to
target what may well be an inadequately-secured nuclear
cargo (Allison, 2005; Marshall, 2006). Even when it gets
to Russia, the sometimes horrific conditions of nuclear
waste facilities there burdens the local environment with
probable contamination, not just for the near future, but
for the many generations to come (Bridges and Bridges,
1995; Marshall, 2007).
Option 2 is also a major problem since Indonesia has no
disposal facilities for highly radioactive waste and it is
extremely limited in being able to process low-level
waste.
Having said this, it should probably be acknowledged that
no nation in the world has actually solved the problem of
how and where to dispose of nuclear waste. In Western
Europe, for example, nuclear waste has been sitting
around in temporary storage for 50 years or more whilst
every single plan to dispose it permanently has been
thwarted by Not-In-My-Back-Yard (NIMBY) politics and
technological uncertainties. In Eastern Europe, it has
been more a lack of funding and also regulatory
negligence, rather than local protest that has stopped the
construction of appropriate disposal facilities. Instead, in
the post-socialist states, the waste is often dumped
illegally into seas, landfills or abandoned areas. Given the
fact that BATAN has no experience in these matters, the
future of Indonesian waste management is sure to
emulate either the Eastern European or Western
European experiences, neither of which solves the waste
problem.
If Indonesia ever managed to move high level waste
from temporary storage to permanent disposal, it is
probable the waste that will one day find its way back to
human communities either by:
(a) Natural events (such as flooding from tsunamis or
storms, or seismic activity produced by Indonesia‟s
numerous volcanoes and earthquakes), or by
(b) Man-made events (such as inadvertent excavation or
by proactive salvaging).
The natural disasters aforementioned may possibly be
mitigated by good management but given the massive
expense of nuclear waste management (amounting to
hundreds of millions of dollars per ton of waste over its
lifetime) and given Indonesia‟s limited government
resources and less than perfect governance, the practice
of good management maybe but a forlorn hope. In turn,
the man-made events maybe even more of a risk in a
terrorist-prone and theft-vulnerable state like Indonesia.
All this could work to spread nuclear material far and
wide including into the hands of domestic terrorists and
Marshall 3
enemy states (Potter and Kukhatzanova, 2010).
Since March 2011, several Indonesian ministers are
now expressing intentions to rethink nuclear power.
BATAN itself though is going into an offensive PR mode,
suggesting that:
(1) The Japanese Fukushima plant was built on a known
earthquake and tsunami zone but Indonesian nuclear
plants will not be.
(2) The Japanese reactors were of an old design and
Indonesian nuclear power plants will be of a newer safer
design.
The retorts to these two points are as follows:
Firstly, no place in Indonesia is totally safe from seismic
catastrophe, whether it be caused by earthquake,
tsunami or volcano. Some places may seem quite safe
but that is only because our scientific knowledge of these
areas may be incomplete.
Secondly, the „new design‟ power plants may not be
the ones chosen by the Indonesian government and even
if they are, they are still subject to grand safety problems
(Macalister, 2009) including vulnerabilities to theft and
sabotage.
VULNERABLE TO ACCIDENTS
BATAN is involved in an ongoing PR effort to assure its
citizens that all necessary safety aspects are taken into
account to ensure a safe and healthy working
environment within and outside future nuclear plants. The
authorities cite the safe 40 years operation of a series of
small research reactors to indicate how safe future
nuclear power will be in Indonesia. If and when the four
commercial reactors are up and running, they will dwarf
the power of these small research reactors by many
times. Thus, perhaps the Indonesian population should
expect the scale of safety to be upgraded by many times.
Despite the promises of safety and the small scale of
past nuclear operations in the country, there have been
numerous nuclear incidents in Indonesia from leaks to
radiological trafficking, as documented by the
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In other East
Asian nations with nuclear programs, nuclear accidents
have also been common (Condon, 1998; Yi-Chong,
2011). In Taiwan and Korea, for example, there have
been numerous shutdowns, leaks, fires and accidental
exposures. In Japan, explosions, fires, earthquakes and
management negligence have led to numerous radiation
deaths over the years even before the disastrous events
of Fukushima-Daichi. In China, despite the deep secrecy
of the Chinese nuclear industry, there are numerous
reports of major accidents also, many involving deaths or
leakages (Condon, 1998). It is highly likely that a scaled-
up nuclear program in Indonesia will encounter similar
problems, and that the workers and local community
members will be most vulnerable (Amir, 2009).
If and when Indonesia builds its reactors, they will have
4 J. Geogr. Reg. Plann.
to be located in coastal areas in order to get enough
water for daily operations. These locales are themselves
problematic for a number of reasons. Firstly, they are
precisely the zones most susceptible to flooding via
tsunamis and tropical storms. The 2011 seismic events
hitting Eastern Japan have shown the vulnerabilities of
nuclear facilities located on the coast. And if the
December, 2004 Asian tsunami happened to wash
around a nuclear facility on Sumatra or Java, radioactive
material could have washed up and down the coasts for
hundreds of kilometers, vastly increasing the effects of
the disaster, and possibly wiping out any sustained
industrial and agricultural use of coastal land for decades.
This could yet be the case for those areas surrounding
the Japanese Fukushima plant. And we have to
acknowledge the warning systems, evacuation protocols,
and safety mechanisms are not likely to be anywhere
near as advanced in Indonesia as they are in Japan.
NUCLEAR WILL NEED PUBLIC FINANCIAL SUPPORT
The nuclear industry in Indonesia is not large but BATAN
is looking to make it so, citing the fact that an operational
nuclear power plant can provide slightly cheaper base-
load power compared to any and all alternatives.
However, a fully operational Indonesian nuclear plant will
be reliant on the following:
(1) Government-sponsored capital outlay of nuclear plant
construction (to the tune of two to six billion dollars over
20 years),
(2) Government-funded research and development (to
the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars per year),
(3) Government-funded storage and disposal of nuclear
waste (to the tune of billions of dollars over the lifetime of
a plant, and for hundreds of years after it is
decommissioned),
(4) Government-funded training of nuclear staff (to the
tune of hundreds of millions of dollars for the first
decades of construction and operation),
(5) Government-funded purchase of uranium fuel (to the
tune of hundreds of millions of dollars for each reactor
per year),
(6) Government-sponsored insurance in case of
accidents (to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars
per year during the lifetime of a plant).
Thus, any nuclear-produced electricity is only able to be
competitively-priced because of the existence of massive
subsidies. No other power option in Indonesia receives
subsidies on such grand scales and these subsidies are
not calculated into the final cost of the electricity when
BATAN announces the price per energy unit of their
nuclear program.
To pay for these subsidies, Indonesia will have to go
into a special nuclear-made debt program. A bevy of
environmentalists and economists (Makhijani and
Scott, 1999; Caldicott, 2007; Lovins et al., 2008;
Sovacool, 2011) believe a much better (and far cheaper)
investment option is to develop a power conservation
program which would effectively dismiss the need for the
construction of any nuclear plant.
NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION IN EAST ASIA
Indonesia‟s nuclear ambitions have been approved by
the IAEA (The United Nation‟s (UN‟s) atomic energy
agency). Before reading too much into this, it should be
noted that the IAEA only start making noises about
nuclear projects in extreme circumstances when a broad
array of powerful countries express coordinated dismay.
It should be noted that the IAEA is a two-headed
watchdog. Although, it acts to minimize potential
proliferation concerns, the IAEA is actually charged with
spreading peaceful nuclear power around the globe, and
as its membership (and its staff) comprise pro-nuclear
organizations and pro-nuclear individuals from around the
world; so the IAEA generally works to expand the virtues
of nuclear power and spread nuclear technology. So, it
happens with Indonesia where the IAEA are giving
millions to BATAN to do preliminary studies on
commercializing nuclear power.
So, would a peaceful civil Indonesian nuclear program
lead to an increase in proliferation risk? The answer is
yes. Despite the rhetoric of BATAN spokespeople that
nuclear energy and nuclear bombs are two different sets
of technology (and despite the international safeguards
that the IAEA try to police), the governments of East Asia
know that a commercial nuclear power program
encourages atomic weapons knowledge amongst its
nuclear professionals and a commercial nuclear power
plant produces material able to be converted into a
weapon-form. As is often the case in East Asia, what one
nation does with nuclear projects often unnerves others
(Beng, 2004; Law, 2008) and it has been acknowledged
that Japan, the Koreas, Burma and Thailand are being
prompted to acquire nuclear weapons technologies as a
guard against other nations nuclear developments
(Bracken, 1999; Solingen, 2007; Potter and
Kukhatzanova, 2010).
Another proliferation risk is associated with the
increased amount of nuclear material and nuclear
technology in the region (and the transport of these via
land and sea). If this material and technology is not
secured to the best possible degree it could be subject to
theft by those wishing to develop nuclear or radiological
weapons. The more nuclear material there is lying around
the more chances it can be seized or stolen by
Indonesia‟s enemies and terrorists.
PUBLIC ACCEPTANCE OF NUCLEAR ENERGY
According to BATAN surveys, public acceptance of
nuclear power plants was growing for the last few years
up to a high of almost 60%. This is not surprising since
BATAN has been systematically promoting nuclear power
in a public manner and the government at large has been
announcing they will consider and approve nuclear plants
in principle. For those Indonesians that trust the
government and its organs, any official approval will be
evidence of the project‟s sagacious nature.
However, not all Indonesians trust their government.
Many admit their country has a corruption problem, with
weak governing institutions and a lack of coordination
between regulatory agencies problems that will be
amplified by a big expensive project like a nuclear plant.
This background of distrust, coupled with the media
exposure of the Fukushima disaster will challenge the
acceptance of Indonesian nuclear power in the coming
years.
Even before Fukushima though, there was public
disquiet and dissent. A 1990s proposal to build a nuclear
power plant in the Muria Peninsula on Java Island was
shelved after protests from environmentalists and the
local population. These stakeholders were concerned
with a myriad of issues, including those outlined above,
plus they were also concerned about the potential of
nuclear disaster based on the area‟s peculiar geology.
Gunung Muria, the volcano 30 km from the proposed site
has been dormant for centuries but some scientists admit
their worries that it could still erupt without warning, as
other „dormant‟ Indonesian volcanoes have (Amir, 2009).
The effect of volcano-induced quakes upon a nuclear
facility may indeed be catastrophic, as was the Japan
quake of 2011 and there are few safety features that
could be engineered to fully deal with such an event of
uncertain scale.
CONCLUSION
In general, it can be concluded that Indonesia‟s
aspirations to develop a peaceful nuclear power program
are not suitable given its governance problems and its
financial problems, and also for reasons of safety,
proliferation and potential pollution. Firstly, the costs of
such an endeavor are immense and the money could be
used better in the area of power conservation, let alone
the development of renewable energy, both of which are
likely to be cheaper and more environmental friendly.
Secondly, an Indonesian nuclear power station will be
prone to natural or man-made disasters. From typhoons
to tsunamis through to theft and terrorism, a nuclear plant
will, for many years beyond its operating lifetime,
increase the vulnerability of Indonesia to catastrophic
events.
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