Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Indonesia and Nuclear Power

Can a notoriously unstable geography support atomic power plants, or does the country go dark?

Indonesia, which according to a United Nations agency is home to most of of the world's earthquakes and at least 155 centers of volcanic activity, wants to get into the nuclear power game. An official announced quietly in Jakarta at a recent meeting of the country's Nuclear Energy Regulatory Agency that the government intends to build its way into energy independence through nuclear energy.

The Nuclear Energy Regulatory and National Atomic Energy Agencies, which between them are responsible for the country's nuclear activity, are training staff.

Indonesia already reportedly has more than 100 trained nuclear technologists and three working research reactors. Indonesian State Research and Technology Minister Suharna Surapranata, in the new cabinet for less than two months, announced that he expects the agency to run the initial nuclear plant "when it opens in 2016"although some industry analysts say this will take longer than he thinks, maybe until 2020, or later.

Indonesia has historically run into problems when the question of nuclear power comes up, often over concerns about its unstable geography. In 2007, nearly 4,000 protesters gathered in Muria in Central Java to call on the government to abandon plans to build a nuclear plant. Indonesia lies athwart the so-called Ring of Fire, the unstable meeting of the Indo-Australian, Indo-Chinese, Pacific and Philippine tectonic plates.

It is estimated by the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs that 90 percent of the world's earthquakes occur in the 7,000 islands that make up the country. In September, more than 1,100 people died in a 7.6 magnitude temblor that hit West Sumatra. Another 81 were killed in an earlier one that hit West Java. An estimated 350,000 buildings collapsed in Yogyakarta, 45,000 in West Java and more than 135,000 in Western Sumatra as a result of the quakes. Thus, national opposition has to be overcome locally at the first Muria site in Java and in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations itself.

Nonetheless, the argument that Indonesia must become a nuclear power is mathematically irrefutable. It is based on energy demand and supply and social and administrative behavior in a country whose population will reach 285 million by mid-century. Gross domestic product, marginally affected by the global credit crisis that began in 2008, is expected by the World Bank to rise by a healthy 5.4 percent in 2010 and 6.0 percent in 2011. From 1980 to 2006, the last year for which figures are available, annual electricity consumption zoomed almost tenfold from 11.299 billion kwh 110.711kwh, according to the International Energy Agency, and is continuing to rise inexorably.

The country's continuing electricity crisis, which has resulted in regular rolling blackouts in Jakarta, Surabaya and many other cities, is the product of these conditions, combined with corruption and logistical problems on energy distribution and fuel supply and increasingly intense competition for any kind of fuel. The Asian Development Bank announced recently that the country must invest US$4 billion to improve real-sector energy efficiency over the next five years to make the economy more competitive.

The country's first "fast-track power program," started in 2006, was designed to add 10,000 megawatts to the power grid. It is years behind schedule and was seriously delayed by unduly low pricing for power, volatile coal supply prices and huge logistical problems, additional problems convincing Chinese export banks to lend in the face of a lack of state guarantees, and with the whole program reportedly mired in multi-ministry delays on permits, permissions and procedures, plus the negative impact of a tradition of corruption and inefficiency extending to PLN, the state monopoly power utility and much of public administration,

The government is calling on reluctant coal producers to reserve 30 percent of their output for domestic use at a time when export prices are significantly higher than domestic ones. Should coal or LNG gas producers export for good profits on a reviving world market or supply a poorer energy-starved downstream domestic market in a country without adequate ports, railways, roads or pipelines?

Indonesia only has about 30 gigawatts (GWe) of power in the national grid right now and needs an additional 5 GW every year for the foreseeable future. So it needs 55 GW by 2015 and 80 GWe by 2020. This does not include cleaning up 20,000 smaller private power stations in commerce and industry, nor the 35 percent of the Indonesian population --82 million --who are not yet grid-connected and have little or no power.

The Muria nuclear plant, if it can surmount local protest, is projected to produce 4000 Mwe (4 GWe). To make 4000 MWe from renewable energy Indonesia would need 1,200 successful Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) or Equipment Procurement and Construction (EPC) contracts, covering mini-hydro, biomass, wind, solar and geothermal technologies, with half successfully financed and 60 projects finished a year.

At the moment neither government nor industry could do anything like this. Such targets are impossible with present regulatory frameworks, public administration and public and private sector capacities.

The second proposed 10,000 MWe fast-track electricity program to try and cope with the black-outs and electricity crises in Jakarta and the provinces is based 42 percent on developing geothermal energy. But no one has ever made a geothermal power plant the way they propose, via exploration and development agreements with local governments, which cannot yet offer investors recourse on exploration, commercial and political risks without guarantees which do not yet exist, assuming they had expertise and capacities they do not yet have.

Indonesia already reportedly has more than 100 trained nuclear technologists and three working research reactors. Siemens Indonesia, a unit of the German engineering and technology company Siemens AG, is building condensers for the largest steam turbine for a nuclear power plant in the world, located in Finland.

But nuclear power cannot work in Indonesia without social and political modernization to provide the civic culture supports required to approve, regulate and sustain it. As General Charles de Gaulle discovered earlier on in France, nuclear power is a sure route to modernization. It forces a country to change.
And Asia is sold on mass consumption, big shopping malls, and economic growth, and to show the West it can be the best, which needs vast increases in demand for energy. That is why most of the world's new nuclear power stations will be in Asia.

Together, 70 nuclear plants are either working or under construction in China, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Pakistan and India. This is a high volume high technology solution for societies which cannot shift fast enough to lower volume growth and greener consumption patterns.

Pit textbook development theory against modern social and political practice, and the textbook will lose. For the people to win any other way would require unimaginably greater efforts than are already being made. So renewable and green energy targets can only be met if nuclear power is included. And Indonesia has to be accepted as a nuclear power, tectonic plates or no tectonic plates. By Terry Lacey, development economist Jakarta.

1 comment:

  1. Unless with get IEC polywell fusion, nuclear fission power is neccesarily the energy future.

    None of the alternatives can generate the gigawatts and terrawatts of electricity that a modern civilization requires (yes, including Indonesia). The Indonesians should work with the indians to develop and copy the thorium nuclear power plants that the Indians are developing. Thorium nuclear power is the best approach to fission power (MSR and LFTR), offering lots of power with minimal nuclear waste and weapons proliferation risks.

    I am all for the Indonesians (and everyone else) developing nuclear power plants.