Our Nuclear Risk

Japan’s battle with potential nuclear meltdown at its Fukushima No. 1 plant following last week’s earthquake and tsunami catastrophes should serve as a warning to those planning a nuclear station in this earthquake-prone country.  

But, alarmingly, our nuclear chief said this week that a site may be chosen on an island just off Sumatra, which is plagued by large-scale earthquakes and was the epicentre of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that ravaged Sumatra and parts of the wider region and left hundreds of thousands dead. 

Hudi Hastowo, head of the National Atomic Energy Agency, said Bangka island east of Sumatra is a contender for Indonesia’s first nuclear power plant (the north coast of Java had been on the cards), and its construction, to begin in 2022, would “be based on several considerations which are in line with international safety criteria.”

Every nuclear-power facility is built in accordance with international procedures; but not all are placed on tectonic fault lines that generate massive earthquakes and potential tsunamis.

Hastowo said: “The site has a relatively stable record of seismic and volcanic activity,” and Indonesia would use superior technology to that employed in Japan. That’s doubtful, on both fronts. The Sumatra area is an earthquake hot-zone, with the seismically active Indo-Australian Plate running in a wide gash down its western flank; and Japan is an industrialised country with a long history of nuclear power while Indonesia is a developing country with no experience of it at all.

Equally worryingly is the coastal location of such a site. For rod-cooling purposes, atomic plants require a great deal of water and many are located along shorelines; but as Japan has discovered to its great cost, in earthquake-riddled countries nuclear plants in such spots run the risk of being doubly imperilled, by killer waves.  

Indonesia lamentably is in a power deficit, witnessed again as recently as this week when Bali was plunged into darkness as state power provider PLN again failed to maintain adequate supplies on its grid. But rather than put the country at greater danger of damaged nuclear power plants seeping radiation, readily available and eco-friendly sources should be tapped. These include geothermal energy and wind, wave, tide and river-current power, abundant right across the archipelago. This is exactly the approach advocated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel this week as she promised to switch off her country’s 17 nuclear reactors in favour of renewable – and safe – energy.

Indonesia experiences enough natural disasters; it should not add to them with manmade creations.

Filed under: Editorial

Comments are closed.

1