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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Current nuclear technology not suitable for Singapore

Current nuclear technology not suitable for Singapore
Published : Tuesday, October 16th, 2012
By : The Straits Times
Category : Energy
Region : Singapore
Tags : energy security, natural gas, nuclear, power plants, research

Current nuclear energy technology is not suitable for Singapore, a pre-feasibility study has concluded.

Mr S. Iswaran, Second Minister for Trade and Industry, said in Parliament yesterday that the risks of housing a nuclear power plant here to generate electricity still outweigh the benefits, given the country’s size and dense population.

But the two-year study by government agencies, external consultants and independent expert advisers, in response to an Economic Strategies Committee recommendation in 2010, did not rule out nuclear energy totally.

It recommended that Singapore continue to monitor new technologies.

The country also needs to strengthen capabilities to understand nuclear science and technology, and in emergency response and radioactive waste disposal, said Mr Iswaran, who is also Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs.

Many of the Republic’s Asean neighbours are planning to build nuclear power plants. Vietnam aims to build 10 nuclear reactors by 2030. Malaysia is studying having one in operation by 2021.

Hence, Singapore should also play a role in global and regional cooperation on nuclear safety. It is, for example, a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, an inter-governmental body that promotes the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Dr T.S. Gopi Rethinaraj, an assistant professor and nuclear energy expert at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, is not surprised the nation has ruled out the nuclear option for now.

“Current technology may not be suitable,” he said. This is because the designs require large safety buffers, including an uninhabited zone with a 2km radius and a 5km low-density zone.

Newer, safer designs exist only on paper, he added. These would be at least 20 to 30 years from commercial development.

“In the foreseeable future, the best bet would be natural gas in the near term,” he said.

Singapore aims to have a stable, economically competitive supply of energy while minimising carbon emissions and pollution. Eighty per cent of electricity is generated from natural gas piped from Indonesia and Malaysia. It has limited scope for solar, wind and other renewable energies.

But a liquefied natural gas terminal, set to begin operations next year, will allow Singapore to import gas from other countries.

This and the growth of unconventional gas sources like shale gas could help alleviate Singapore’s energy security concerns even without a nuclear power plant, said Dr Michael Quah of NUS’ chemical and biomolecular engineering department.

And even if Singapore does not build a nuclear plant, others in the region will, and it can help train people for regulatory and other industry roles. “Nuclear has long coat-tails. Where in the supply chain can we develop manpower?” said Dr Quah.

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