Indonesia’s long, winding road to nuclear power

Posted on December 5, 2011. Filed under: Energy, International Watch |

-The Jakarta Post-

Taswanda Taryo, the National Nuclear Energy Agency’s (Batan) research chief, is phlegmatic about building the nation’s first nuclear power plant.

“Despite the pros and cons, we’ll try to work on schedule,” Taswanda said.

After the leak at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan, however, concerns on the safety of nuclear power have heated up. Germany, for example, temporarily shuts down its nuclear power plants for further study.

“The disaster in Japan delivered a message that we have to be more careful in dealing with nuclear power. However, if we put the plant in the right place and apply the right technologies, it will be safe,” Taswanda said.

According to the 2007 National Long-term Development Plan (RPJPN), Indonesia’s first nuclear power plant is scheduled to open between 2015 and 2019 – a target that Batan chief Hudi Hastowosaid would be missed.

Meanwhile, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has been in no rush, saying there would be no nuclear power plant built in Indonesia before he leaves office in 2014.

The idea to build a nuclear power plant in Indonesia first emerged in 1956 during seminars at universities in Bandung, West Java, and Yogyakarta. But it was not until 1972 when Batan and the Public Works and Electricity Ministry set up the Commission for the Development and Preparation of Nuclear Power Plants (KP2PLTN).

In 1989, the National Energy Coordination Agency (Bakoren), supervised by Batan, conducted a feasibility study for building a 7,000-megawatt (MW) reactor on the Muria peninsula in Central Java.

By 1996, officials determined that it was possible to build a 600-to-900 MW light water reactor on the peninsula, planning for the reactor to go online to support Java and Bali’s electricity grid by 2004.

However, the project was shelved in 1998 amid the Asian Financial Crisis. Strong local resistance has since stymied work on the reactor.

Batan then looked for other possible locations for a nuclear power plant, eventually choosing Bangka-Belitung. The government currently plans to build a 10,000-MW reactor West Bangka and an 8,000-MW reactor South Bangka with a launch date of 2021 or 2022.

However, this plan has also met resistance from local residents fearful of a repeat of the nuclear catastrophes in Japan and Chernobyl, Ukraine.

Indonesia’s location in the so-called Pacific Ring of Fire, the site of a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, has heightened risks and popular concerns about nuclear power.

Taswanda, however, downplayed the risks. “I learned from the Indonesian Earthquake Commission that eastern Sumatra, western Kalimantan and north Java are relatively safe from earthquakes because they are far from fault lines.”

In the future, Taswanda said, Batan wanted to “improve communication” with the residents of Muria and Bangka and share with them how a nuclear power plant might improve their well being.

“Electricity from a nuclear power plant is very important for industries to expand their businesses, which in the end can absorb more workers,” he said.

Taswanda said pressurized water reactor (PWR) technology was the most suitable and reliable form of nuclear energy production for Indonesia.

A PWR uses water as its main coolant. The water is pumped under high pressure to the reactor core where it is heated by the energy generated by the fission of atoms.

The heated water then flows to a steam generator, where it transfers its thermal energy to a secondary system where steam is generated and flows to turbines which, in turn, spins electric generators.

Currently, Indonesia has three small-scale nuclear reactors: a 250-kilowatt (kW) reactor in Bandung launched in 1965; a 30-MW reactor in Serpong, Banten, launched in 1987; and a 100-kW reactor in Yogyakarta launched in 1979 .

The cost of building a nuclear reactor, using the example of Vietnam, may reach Rp 20 trillion (US$2.1 billion). While initial investment is expensive, nuclear plants are cheaper to operate than oil-fueled power plants.

A nuclear power plant can produce electricity for about 9.66 US cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) on the high end, while the cost of electricity produced by oil-based plants top 30 cents per kWh.

The cheapest option for generating electricity, however, is coal, which yields electricity for about 4 cents per kWh.

State-Owned Enterprises Minister Dahlan Iskan said he recently received a proposal to build a 200 kW-nuclear-power plant whose output could be increased to 2 MW within a year.

“I personally agree with the proposal because one day we will have to use nuclear technologies for electricity,” Dahlan said.

Separately, the new chief of state power utility PT PLN, Nur Pamudji, said PLN was ready if the government chose to go nuclear.

“However, we don’t know who will build the power plant,” Nur said.

Batan, which only promotes nuclear technology, would not build power plants, Taswanda said. It would only guide investors to find suitable locations for nuclear power plants and determine which technologies should be implemented.

Previously, officials at Batan voiced their disapproval of comments made by Deputy Energy and Mineral Resources Minister Widjajono Partowidagdo, who said that Indonesia was not ready to build a nuclear power plant due to poor security and a lack of skilled human resources.

The Indonesian Engineers Association (PII) also lambasted Widjajono, saying building a nuclear power plant was already a national program and that the deputy minister should have known about it.

Widjajono said Indonesia should work with a nation that had mastered nuclear technology, such as Singapore, before building its own plant.

“We could build the plant on an island near Singapore, such as Batam. We can even export half of the electricity to Singapore or Malaysia.”

However, Widjajono said that Indonesia uses alternatives, such as coal, geothermal energy and natural gas before turning to nuclear power.


A Brief History of Nuclear Power in Indonesia

Year   __________   Activities

1956  Academics propose building nuclear power plants Indonesia.

1972  Batan establishes Commission for the Development and Preparation of Nuclear Power Plants (KP2PLTN).

1975  14 sites for nuclear power plants are identified, five of which are deemed acceptable.

1978  Cooperating with the Italian government, the nation’s first nuclear power feasibility study is conducted. Plant construction is delayed pending development of a research reactor.

1985  Feasibility study continues under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Bechtel International (with US government backing), France-based SOFRATOME and the Italian government. The study is used to investigate developing a reactor in Muria, Central Java.

1989  National Energy Coordination Agency (Bakoren) is founded. Muria Peninsula feasibility study is launched.

1991  Finance Ministry inks deal for new feasibility study with consultants NEWJEC Inc.

1996  The study identifies Muria peninsula as a suitable site for a light water nuclear power plant.

1998  Asian Financial Crisis delays Muria project.

2010  Popular dissent in Muria Peninsula leads Batan to consider Bangka Belitung to host power plants, setting on hotly contested plans to build reactors in West Bangka and South Bangka.


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