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Southeast Asia to pursue nuclear power?

Nov. 28, 2011 at 11:18 AM   |   Comments

SINGAPORE, Nov. 28 (UPI) -- A number of Southeast Asian nations haven't ruled out nuclear power despite safety concerns after natural disasters in Japan led to a meltdown at a nuclear power plant.

A magnitude-9 earthquake and resulting tsunami on March 11 wrecked the Fukushima nuclear plant in northern Japan and led to many countries rethinking their positions on the use and further development of nuclear energy sources.

Selena Ng, regional director for Southeast Asia at French nuclear giant Areva delineated for The New York Times at what stage some of the 10 countries that are part of the Association of Southeast Asian nations stand on nuclear power: Malaysia is "discreetly" proceeding with a feasibility study; Thailand hasn't ruled nuclear out, despite strong internal opposition; the Philippines is reconsidering whether to continue preliminary feasibility studies and Indonesia is slowly continuing with a feasibility study.

Meanwhile, Indonesia's National Nuclear Energy Agency has been promoting the construction of a nuclear plant on the island of Bangka, prompting protests from anti-nuclear activists, Eco-Business news reports.

"Nuclear energy has no place in modern safe energy systems. Indonesia and ASEAN must immediately decide to stop their fantasy forever to build a nuclear power plant in Southeast Asia," said Arif Fiyanto of Greenpeace Indonesia.

While Singapore is "a long way away" from making a decision about nuclear energy, S.Iswaran, the country's second minister for trade and industry said he expects the power source "will become relevant or important in the future."

Despite the Fukushima crisis, he said, Singapore is pushing ahead with a pre-feasibility study, the findings of which could be available next year.

As for Vietnam, last week Russia agreed to lend $8 billion for the construction of Vietnam's first nuclear power plant, the Ninh Thuan, slated for completion in 2020. Ninh Thuan will have two energy units, each with a capacity of 1.2 gigawatts. Vietnam aims to build at least eight nuclear plants.

Southeast Asia's demand for new power generation is so high that investments of at least $125 billion would be needed by 2020, states a recent report from Wood Mackenzie, advisers in the energy and metals sector.

The region's power demand growth will outpace gross domestic product growth in the next decade and annual demand for power in major urban areas is likely to nearly double by 2020, it says.

"I definitely think that ASEAN should discuss nuclear as an option as part of its overall energy policy," Nobuo Tanaka, former executive director for the International Energy Agency, told the International Herald Tribune.

"India is using nuclear, China is using nuclear, Russia is using it. If that's the case, can ASEAN grow without nuclear? It must prepare for demand for the future and as such, nuclear is a very important option."

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