Indonesia pushing for nuclear power, despite safety concerns

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

By Jakarta correspondent Geoff Thompson

The Howard government made no secret of its support for nuclear power both at home and in the region. Now, one of the country's closest neighbours, Indonesia, is ramping up its own nuclear industry. It is hoping for Australia's continuing technical support - and its uranium. But the threat of earthquakes in Indonesia continues to prompt safety concerns.

Kusmayanto Kadiman, Indonesia's Minister for Research and Technology, believes Indonesia's growing population simply can not be powered with anything less than a substantial nuclear energy program.

"Nuclear is the way forward for Indonesia. If it can't with the current technology that is available, the sources of energy will not be sufficient to support the Indonesian development plan," he said.

He is by no means the first Indonesian politician to think so. But he is more confident than many of his predecessors that Indonesia's first nuclear power plant will be up and running within 10 years.

The reason is the Lombok Treaty signed by the Howard government and the agreement not only to not oppose Indonesia's nuclear aspirations, but to help them into fruition.

Mr Kadiman says that with help from Australian officials and mining companies, Indonesia has even identified its own uranium reserves in Kalimantan, which it hopes to exploit, with Australia's help.

"If again, viability and visibility from the technology and economical point of view, we will do it with Australia, yes," he said.

'Appealing alternative'

It is not yet clear whether Indonesia can expect the same enthusiastic assistance from the Rudd Government, which is less keen about nuclear energy options.

Kevin Rudd was elected promising to scrap plans to sell uranium to India, which has not signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

No such obstacles however would prevent Australian uranium sales to Indonesia, which has signed the NPT.

Dr Ziggy Switkowski, who headed the Howard government's nuclear energy task force, says Indonesia is right to consider the option.

"In our region you've got countries such as Japan and South Korea and China and India committing to building more and more reactors into the future," he said.

"It does seem to me to be a very sensible option for any country that's going to have to make significant investments in new generating capacity and I think Indonesia very much will see that as a very appealing alternative."


Last year there was an explosion at a chemical lab within the grounds of Indonesia's only nuclear testing facility near Jakarta.

There was no nuclear threat, but the accident again raised concerns over the dubious safety record of Indonesia's infrastructure.

The proposed site of Java's first proper nuclear power plants is under the shadow of the dormant volcano, Mount Muria, land which has two active geological faults running beneath it.

Yayuk Nur Hidayati is the nuclear campaigner for Greenpeace Indonesia.

"The geographical and geological condition in Java is very unstable. A lot of earthquakes and a lot of faults are found all over Java, not to mention the volcano that is still active in Java," she said.

"So this is the existing condition that we can not avoid."

Dr Switkowski and other experts agree that the technology now exists to build earthquake-proof reactors, although cracks which appeared in a Japanese plant last year did raise eyebrows.

One thing is certain according to the studies which have been done - a nuclear problem for Indonesia could also be a nuclear problem for Australia.

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