JAKARTA, March 17 (UPI) -- Indonesia's House of Representatives gave a green light to the government's plan to build nuclear plants.
That decision Monday came after the parliamentary commission for energy, technology and the environment visited the country's National Nuclear Energy Agency, which is known as Batan, during the weekend.
"Indonesia can no longer rely on non-renewable energy sources such as gas and coal to generate electricity in future," said Teuku Riefky Harsya, chairman of the commission, in a statement.
Coal is estimated to account for 44 percent of state-owned utility PT Perusahaan Listrik Negara's total energy production this year with natural gas another 26 percent.
Hudi Hastowo, head of Batan, told The Jakarta Globe the agency wouldn't operate nuclear plants but would act as a supporting partner in providing technical advice.
Building a nuclear plant was a long-term project for Indonesia, Hastowo said, that could take at least 10 years.
"We now have to convince all stakeholders to support the plan," he said.
The agency has carried out a feasibility study on the construction of nuclear plants in Indonesia, covering such issues as safety and the environment. Batan said the country's uranium reserves in Kalimantan are capable of producing 1,000 megawatts of electricity for 150 years.
As for safety, Hastowo said that Indonesia would carefully evaluate safety measures in building nuclear power plants because the agency is party to the 1994 Vienna Convention on Nuclear Safety.
Noting that the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency is "very strict" in issuing permits for a country to build a nuclear power plant, he said that an IAEA inspector last November unofficially endorsed Indonesia's capacity to build a nuclear power plant.
While Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's administration has yet to present a detailed proposal to Parliament on the building of nuclear facilities, the Antara news agency reported the president as saying, "I believe that nuclear power plants will not leak if managed properly."
But the nuclear option "carries high-level risks for which Indonesia is not well prepared," said Richard Tanter, an expert on Indonesia's nuclear program at Australia's Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, The Sydney Morning Herald reports.
"There are very serious volcanic and seismic risks,'' Tanter said.
Indonesia, faced with increasing electricity needs, encounters regular blackouts that hamper industrial production and discourage investors.
Hikmat Soeriatanuwijaya, a campaigner for Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said it was too early for Indonesia to embark on the nuclear path, the Globe reports.
Soeriatanuwijaya said the government should first explore geothermal energy. Indonesia's untapped geothermal energy accounted for 40 percent of the world's total reserves, he said.