Saturday, July 3, 2010

Indonesia’s nuclear energy plan: A peer review

It is interesting that from all the so-called G20 distinguished major economies, only Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey are currently not exposed to nuclear energy, let alone nuclear power plants.

But wait, the information is not entirely correct because just last month, Saudi Arabia decided to build its first nuclear power plant, the King Abdullah City for Nuclear and Renewable Energy, to be based in Riyadh.

And a short time ago, Turkey concluded a deal with Russia to build its first nuclear power plant in Mersin's Akkuyu district.

What does this mean? Well, among others, first, Saudi Arabia, the country with one fourth of the world's petroleum reserves, has finally decided that it's time to take real action in dealing with energy issues.

The reason is classic, which is oil and gas simply cannot compete alone with the ever-expanding demand for energy.

The fact that this comes from one of the world's richest countries of non-renewable resources underlines that energy issues cannot be taken for granted.

Second, given the situation, soon Indonesia will be the only country in the G20 exclusive circle claiming 85 percent of global gross national products, 80 percent world trade and two-thirds of the world population that has not operated a single nuclear power plant. So what? G20 membership is not based on nuclear power plants; it is based on economies. Unfortunately that is not the case.

It is economics 101 that energy supply is an indispensable modality of a country's economy. Two explanations may be inferred from this unique situation; either Indonesia is extremely strong on its economy thus it can constantly subsidize the energy supply or it is a matter of time before an energy crisis takes Indonesia's economy to rock bottom.

Well, with the regular blackouts in Jakarta, unless something is seriously being done, I tend to think the latter.

Another interesting note can be derived from the fact that in the top five most populated countries in the world, Indonesia is also the only country that does not have any operational nuclear power plants. Indonesia may be number four in terms of population, but she is definitely the last on nuclear energy. Based on the comparison between numbers of population and nuclear power plants, it can be indicated that a minimum one operating nuclear power plant is available for every 90-100 million people.

In Brazil, for example, there are two nuclear plants operational with an additional one reactor under construction to serve the needs of 193 million of its people.
In India and China, the comparison is relatively small, which is one nuclear power plant for every 30-50 million people. In the US, the comparison is significantly smaller. Applying the said comparison to Indonesia, with 240 million people and counting, at a minimum, it needs two or three operating nuclear power plants.
Observing from G20 and the five most populated countries in the world analysis, Indonesia is least competitive when it comes to nuclear energy.

Now, let's move on to regional grouping, which in this case is ASEAN. In 2008, the ASEAN working group on the establishment of nuclear power plants has agreed to support the establishment of nuclear power plants in the region. Up to date, five ASEAN countries have indicated to build nuclear power plants, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

Based on each country target, it will be at least another 10-15 years before an operating nuclear power plant can be seen in the region. Indonesia, however, may not be the first country to operate a nuclear power plant in ASEAN.

The first nuclear power plant in Southeast Asia is expected to be operational in Vietnam in 2020 and followed by Malaysia in 2021. Indonesia is expected to have the first nuclear power plant either in an ambitious target of 2016 or a modest one in 2025, the former being stated by state Research and Technology Minister Suharna Surapranata and the latter by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

I am not saying obtaining nuclear technology is as easy a walk in the park, but for a country that had once built a state of the art of fly-by-wire aircraft, I am quite optimistic that 2016's target is feasible. Nevertheless, with the current political condition, 2025 also sounds reasonable although it is long overdue considering the year when the idea of the nuclear power plant was first introduced in the country in 1956.

So where does that leave Indonesia now? Are we heading in the right direction to prepare the coming energy crisis or going nowhere? According to Presidential Regulation No. 5/2006 concerning National Policy on Energy, nuclear falls under renewable energies with a combined target of more than 5 percent of national energy supply in 2025. For a comparison, to date, in China and US, nuclear and hydro add up to 50 percent of their energy supply.

In Brazil, however, nuclear takes 4 percent of its national power supply while more than 80 percent comes from hydro energy. Similarly in India, its usage of nuclear energy today is less than 3 percent, although it aims an increase to 25 percent by 2050.

Admittedly, a target of more than 5 percent in 2025 is competitive compared with other most populated countries excluding China and the US of course.
Furthermore, energy security has also been placed as one of the top priorities of the National Development Plan based on the 2010 Government Regulation regarding the National Medium Development Plan.

And on top of that, international law, in particular the 1968 Non-Proliferation Treaty in which Indonesia is a party, and the recently ratified 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, does not prohibit the use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Hence, regulation wise, Indonesia should be ready to have a nuclear power plant.

Lastly, reviews about nuclear power plants should include topics on budgets and environments. An independent estimator revealed that the construction cost to build one operating nuclear power plant would range from US$3-$5 billion, let alone other costs and variables such as operation, maintenance and inflation.

Based on the 2010 State Revenues and Expenditures Budget (APBN), Indonesia allocates Rp 39.5 trillion or around $4.38 billion for its infrastructure and energy developments. Arguably, a simple calculation indicates that the result may not be in favor of nuclear energy. Unlike budgets however, the condition on nuclear energy from the environmental perspective is relatively balanced.

Without attempting to engage in details on the pros and cons of renewable energy, it is suffice to say, from hydro to wind to nuclear, they all have risks and consequences; even with non-renewable energy, incidents such as Lapindo mud flow and recent BP rig's explosion in the Gulf of Mexico, show that none of them are risk and consequence free.

What needs to be highlighted is the fact that developed and developing countries with their combined power supplies do not rule out nuclear energy.

Preference of nuclear energy is growing. As of May 2010, statistics shows that there are 438 operational nuclear reactors in the world. This number will begin to increase, as an additional 54 are under construction, 148 are in order or being planned and another 342 have been proposed.

I do not know when exactly Indonesia is going to have her first nuclear power plant. But I do know that among the 490 nuclear reactors that are in order or being planned and proposed, not a single one of them is in Indonesia.

The writer is a Fulbright scholar and an SJD candidate at the Maurer School of Law, Indiana University, Bloomington.

1 comment:

  1. There are new nuclear power technologies that make the 1970's style plants as passe as disco and polyester shirts. There is the LFTR concept that would use Thorium rather than Uranium as fuel. There is the IFR where the nuclear fuel is reprocessed in the same containment structure as the reactor itself. There is the traveling wave reactor, which is being financed by Bill Gates (and others). All of these concepts offer nearly 100% burn-up of the fuel with the need for isotopic separation either reduced (IFR) or eliminated (LFTR and traveling wave reactor). These are all Gen IV nuclear power plant technologies.

    There is something like 600-1400 reactors, both Gen III and Gen IV, planned over the next 40 years world-wide. Nuclear industry is in a major growth phase with U.S., Japan, Korea, and France as major players.