“In South-east Asia, Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam have expressed interest in nuclear power and Singapore announced earlier this year it was conducting a feasibility study” (An Asian Nuclear Renaissance, Miss Venessa Lee).
The report, “An Asian Nuclear Renaissance” (October 24, 2010) by Miss Venessa Lee, is a balanced commentary on the scientific and socio-political debates revolving around the potential usage and expansion of global nuclear energy. However, against the assortment of background information and experiences with nuclear power, the article has failed to: i) consider the culture, politics and geographical significance of the Southeast-Asian region; ii) subsequently contextualise the cost-benefit analysis to weigh the feasibility of proliferating nuclear usage; and iii) identify the inactivity of regional organisations – in terms of gathering governments – in addressing the concerns.
The benefits of nuclear energy are aplenty: it is a sustainable form of power that significantly reduces carbon emissions, it eases our addiction and dependence on traditional forms of coal and oil, and fuel costs for maintenance are relatively low et cetera. However, besides the pertinent concerns on the level of radiation and the safety of the infrastructures of the reactors, nuclear technology is far from refined. As such, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has not been able to develop a sound blueprint on how radioactive waste produced by power stations can be properly disposed of, or guarantee the reliability of the processors in different conditions.
More notably in the region, the capital cost of building new reactors is extremely high; and countries with poor industrial safety records or problems with political corruption would be rendered exponentially vulnerable. Contracted companies and government officials, tempted by the large amounts of money at stake, would seek means and ways to cut corners and to bypass safety checks. The complexity of the designs – coupled with negligence – can have disastrous consequences. Qualified professionals and personnel are also far and few between. Furthermore, the geographical location of Southeast-Asia – prone to earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions – makes nuclear accidents even more probable. The unpredictability of plate tectonics and natural disasters – as evidenced in Japan – renders reactor construction in less-prone areas insignificant.
Simply put, contemplating the aforementioned; Southeast-Asia is not yet ready to develop nuclear energy and technology en masse.
Nuclear energy would not be the panacea for climate change; and might instead compound existing concerns of a nuclear war, and introduce new ramifications in the form of environmental degradation or safety concerns. Governments need to balance the desire for change with the controversies surrounding its adoption, and regionally consider other alternative energy options – as nuclear technology progresses – before advancing. Otherwise, this blind nuclear renaissance might spell nothing but disaster for the Southeast-Asian people.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.