A nuclear future?

Down to Earth No. 72 March 2007

The Indonesian government is putting in place arrangements to develop its highly controversial nuclear power programme - starting with a reactor on the Muria peninsula in densely populated Central Java.

In December 2006, Indonesia made an agreement with South Korea which paves the way for cooperation on Indonesia's nuclear power programme. Associated Press reported that Presidents Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (SBY) and Roh Moo-hyun signed a bilateral agreement on the peaceful use of nuclear energy on December 4th, but kept the details secret. The agreement said cooperation may include "research, development, design, construction, operation and maintenance of nuclear power plants" and "manufacturing and supplying of nuclear fuel elements" for use in nuclear plants.

Just a month earlier, Indonesia also signed an MOU on nuclear power development with Japan. In a statement Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe "expressed the intention to cooperate, through the human resources development such as dispatch of experts … institutional assistance for introduction of nuclear power generation, stressing the necessity of nuclear safety, security and non-proliferation in this regard." The agreement was signed on behalf of Indonesia by the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Resources and on behalf of Japan by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry on 28 November 2006, during a summit meeting between Abe and Yudhoyono.

Media reports put the cost of developing Indonesia's first nuclear plant, planned for Central Java's Muria peninsula between US$1.5 billion and US$4.8 billion. The plans are to generate up to 4,000 MW- some estimates say up to 9,000 MW - to start construction in 2010, and begin electricity generation in 2016 or 2017. Recent reports from Indonesia's National Nuclear Energy Agency (BATAN) suggest, however, that the plan may begin more modestly with a 1,000 MW reactor expected to cost around US$1.5 billion (around Rp13.5trillion).

Two days after the agreement with South Korea, BATAN announced plans to hold a tender process in 2008 for nuclear equipment suppliers and contractors.

The big-ticket project has spurred a race among countries hoping to promote the financial interests of their local nuclear energy companies. Both the Korean government through its state-owned nuclear energy company Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., and the Japanese government through their export promotion agency, Japan External Trade Organization, have funded lavish seminars in Jakarta's five-star hotels to promote their technology to Indonesian decision-makers.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is also supporting the development of nuclear power in Indonesia, a position confirmed by the December visit of the agency's Director General Mohammad ElBaradel to discuss nuclear cooperation with President SBY.

Another development is Indonesia's new agreement with Australia, which opens the door for Australian uranium to supply a future nuclear industry. The Indonesia and Australia Framework for Security Co-operation, signed in Lombok on November 13th, commits the two countries to cooperate in developing nuclear power for peaceful purposes. Both ministers who signed the agreement said uranium supplies were not likely to begin anytime soon. Australia's Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, said that should Indonesia wish to import uranium in future the two countries would need to negotiate an additional Nuclear Safeguard Agreement, in line with other importers of Australian uranium.

Indonesia is a party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty and, according to ElBaradel, has a comprehensive safeguards agreement and additional protocol in force. In the field of safety and security, Indonesia is a party to the international conventions under the IAEA's auspices, as well as participating in the Asian Nuclear Safety Network.

The Lombok Agreement also attempts to repair the Australia-Indonesia relationship following Australia's granting asylum to 43 West Papuans last year, with language clearly targeted at undermining pro-independence activists (see Tapol Bulletin 185/Jan 2007 for more details).

Both this and the other agreements have been surrounded by controversy over a lack of openness, which does not bode well for future transparency surrounding the nuclear programme. Few details of the December agreement with South Korea were made public and a public consultation period on the Lombok Agreement promised by Downer, never materialised.

NGOs call on GoI to halt nuclear programme
The agreement with Australia sparked an angry response from NGOs concerned about the safety, transparency and scope for corruption in the proposed nuclear programme.

Greenpeace, WALHI (Friends of the Earth Indonesia) and MANUSIA (Indonesians Against Nuclear) are calling on the Indonesian government to stop its nuclear power programme. They argue that it will drag Indonesia into another form of dependence on external energy sources and make energy security even more difficult to attain.

"The reality of nuclear power is no different now than it was in the 20th century - it is inherently dangerous. Time and time again the industry has demonstrated that safety and nuclear power is a contradiction in terms," said WALHI campaigner Torry Kuswardono.

A joint press release pointed to the damage to human health and the environment caused by a string of nuclear accidents before and after the catastrophic accident at Chernobyl, Ukraine, in 1986. It highlighted the fact that radioactive materials are discharged into the environment even under normal operating conditions, and indicated the problems of ageing reactors around the world, operated by companies bent on cost-cutting so they can compete with others in the electricity market and reward shareholders.

"There are so many problems associated with nuclear power plants", said Nur Hidayati of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, "foremost among them is radioactive waste disposal. And when a nuclear plant is placed in an area with volatile geological structure like Indonesia, it will pose a danger to the public."

The NGOs also criticised the government's lack of transparency in decision-making on nuclear power. "It contradicts the ongoing democratisation process in Indonesia," said Dian Abraham of MANUSIA. He accused Australia of double standards: while supporting democracy in Indonesia, it was turning a blind eye to the undemocratic decision-making process and was only concerned about promoting its uranium business.

The NGOs called on Indonesia to take a leading role in developing the country's abundant renewable energy sources instead of nuclear power.

An idea revived
A programme to develop nuclear power in Indonesia has been on the cards before. It was pushed in the final decade of the Suharto period, when then technology minister BJ Habibie announced that Indonesia would build 7-12 nuclear power plants, with the first becoming operational by 2003. There was public opposition at the time from NGOs, parliamentarians and even from some ministers in the Suharto cabinet. Nevertheless, legislation was passed which was widely seen as evidence of government determination to go ahead.

But the ambitious programme, along with other large infrastructure projects, was brought to a halt by the economic crisis which struck in 1997 and hastened the end of Suharto's rule. Habibie, who initially succeeded him as President in the politically turbulent period following Suharto's resignation in 1998, had too many other things on his plate (such as the vote on the status of East Timor) to attend to his pet project.

Since then, there have been intermittent signs that the programme was being revived. These included reports of cooperation with South Korea for plans to jointly build a nuclear plant on Madura, off East Java. (see also DTE 60 & DTE 33:13.)

In February 2004, a senior BATAN official said a US$12 billion, 6,000 MW nuclear power plant would be built at Muria and would be completed in 2016. Soetrisnanto named a Korean nuclear company (Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Company) as one of the private parties involved in the project (see DTE 60). The same year, Indonesia and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) completed a technical cooperation project to assess nuclear power options in Indonesia.

In May 2005, then research and technology minister Kusmayanto Kadiman announced that Indonesia would develop nuclear power by 2017, identifying Muria, Madura, and, failing those, Kalimantan as potential sites for power stations (DTE 66).

In January 2006, a presidential decree on the national energy policy provided for a future nuclear share in Indonesia's energy mix. The Department of Energy and Mineral Resources plans nuclear will contribute around 2% of the national primary energy mix by 2025. According to Women in Nuclear's Indonesia section - a pro-industry group which is hosting the international organisation's meeting this year, the government is expected formally to set up a team of nuclear experts, with its first task to establish a legal entity for the ownership of the nuclear plant.

BATAN's head, Soedyartomo Soentono, said in January this year that construction of the first nuclear plant would begin in 2010. In an attempt to allay fears about earthquakes, he said even though the Muria peninsula lies near the Lasem fault, the three potential sites selected for the plant were considered safe and that power plants were designed to cope with large quakes.

The Muria area lies on the north coast of Central Java, north-east of the major city/port Semarang. Most of the peninsula consists of Mount Muria, a 1,625m volcano believed to be currently inactive. However, the Lasem fault, which runs NE-SW through that part of the north Java coast, is seismologically active, with an earthquake potential to a depth of 100km, according to experts from the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB). The north-eastern coast around Mt Muria is among the poorest parts of Java.

Floating Russian nuclear plant 
While the Jakarta government's efforts focus on the Muria sites in East Java, the regional government in Gorontalo, northern Sulawesi, is hoping the province will become the first nuclear region in the country. Local governor, Fadel Muhamad, announced in October last year that a nuclear power station, planned for Gorontalo, would start operations by the end of 2007 and would have a generating capacity of 90 MW. It would also sell electricity to the state-owned electricity company PLN at a price one third lower than that of conventional electricity.

The generator, to be built by Russian company Raoues, will be built on a ship moored off Gorontalo's shore and will be transmitted to PLN Suluttengo.

The plant is one of the investments prompting the local government to establish three infantry headquarters in the region. A member of Gorontalo's local assembly, Amir Piola Isa, said the assembly had approved the plan, and that "all the people of Gorontalo, as well as the security officers, are ready to safeguard all important installations, including…the floating nuclear power plant belonging to the Russian company."

The use of the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) to guard large foreign investment projects like Freeport-Rio Tinto mine in West Papua and the ExxonMobil gas operations in Aceh has been associated with human rights abuses as well as financial scandals, so bringing more troops to the province of Gorontalo is unlikely to be welcomed by all. A 2004 decree transferred responsibility for securing such 'vital national assets' to the police, but the practice of using the military continues nevertheless. The announcement by Gorontalo is a reminder that the development of a nuclear power programme in Muria and elsewhere will also mean additional security measures, very likely involving TNI troops - which itself must be a further strong argument against its development.

Uranium mining

If Indonesia goes ahead with its nuclear plans, it will add to the booming global demand for uranium - and also to the devastating impacts that producing it brings.

Many uranium mines and exploration projects are located on lands owned by indigenous peoples, who bear the brunt of the environmental and health impacts. These include the contamination of ground water with dissolved metals and radioactive materials, radioactive dust and radioactive gas contaminating the air. When uranium ore is processed, 85% of the radioactivity is left behind in the tailings, requiring safe management for hundreds of thousands of years.

Australia holds an estimated 40% of the world's uranium reserves, although it has no nuclear industry of its own - a situation now under review. There are three operating uranium mines, Beverley (South Australia), Ranger (Northern Territory) and Olympic Dam (South Australia).

Indigenous representatives from Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Germany, India, Japan, the United States and Vanuatu attending an Indigenous World Uranium Summit late last year, voiced their opposition to uranium mining, as well as processing, enrichment, fuel use, weapons testing and deployment, and nuclear waste dumping on indigenous lands. The Summit's declaration called attention to "intensifying nuclear threats to Mother Earth and all life," and asserted that nuclear power - the primary use for uranium - is not a solution to global warming.

(Source: Planet Ark 8/Sep/05; Mining Watch Canada for info on uranium and the indigenous summit: http://www.miningwatch.ca/. See also WISE and Mines and Communities for many more resources on uranium.)

(Sources: Jakarta Post 7/Dec/06, 7/Feb/07; http://www.usembassyjakarta.org/econ/ESTH_highlight_dec06.html;; Sydney Morning Herald 8/Nov/06; IAEA Staff Report 18/Dec/06 athttp://www.iaea.org; WALHI 15/Nov/06&10/Jan/07; Greenpeace, WALHI, MANUSIA joint press release 10/Nov/06 http://www.pelangi.or.id/othernews.php?nid=2357; http://www.win-global.org/win-2007.htm; Dept Teknik Sipil ITB 2005 http://digilib.si.itb.ac.id/go.php?id=jbptitbsi-gdl-s2-2005-okkyahmadp-121http://www.volcano.si.edu/world/volcano.cfm?vnum=0603-251;Jakarta Post 16/Oct/06; Human Rights Watch, Too High a Price; The Human Rights Cost of the Indonesian Military's Economic Activities, June 2006 athttp://hrw.org/reports/2006/indonesia0606/5.htm)