Is ASEAN Moving Forward with Civilian Nuclear Energy? A Look Back at 2018

 

Under ASEAN Plan of Action for Energy Cooperation (APAEC) 2016-2025, civilian nuclear energy (CNE) is one of the seven programme areas to develop. Even though none of the ASEAN Member States (AMS) took an affirmative decision to pursue CNE for power generation in the short-term, some have been in the front line in developing it and expressed some interest to move forward with CNE in their future energy mix.

Nuclear is among the least reported topics in the news throughout 2018, which only accounted for 1.2% of the total news collected through ASEAN Centre for Energy (ACE) news clippings service last year. However, among this handful of news about nuclear, in this edition of the energy insight, ACE tries to catch a glimpse of how CNE progresses in ASEAN based on the AMS’ movements related to CNE during the whole 2018.

 

According to ACE study on CNE which was published in April last year, it is identified that Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam are the front-runners in putting efforts to establish civilian nuclear power by developing legal and regulatory frameworks, as well as establishing nuclear-related infrastructures and organisation. Nonetheless, due to changes in their priorities and political energy landscape, some have slowed down the effort and shelved their nuclear plans. In this insight, we analyse further the current status of nuclear development in ASEAN.

Several AMS frontrunners has withdrawn its nuclear plan

Among the five front runners, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam decided to postpone their nuclear plans until indefinite time. A stated by the new Prime Minister in charge, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad last year,  Malaysia won’t use nuclear power and would continue to rely on fuel sources and renewables to generate electricity. Despite the advancement in nuclear science and technology, a solution to nuclear radiation and waste had yet to be discovered. This is one of the reasons why Malaysia rejected the use of nuclear energy.

Vietnam has also halted its plan to build its first nuclear plant due to economic reasons, especially given the fact that there are cheaper options of energy resource other than nuclear available in the country to support the economic growth. Another obstacle for these Member States to develop nuclear is also the fact that public perception and acceptance remain low, especially in Malaysia and Thailand. The Fukushima Daichi nuclear power accident in Japan in 2011 has become a major consideration for some AMS in making their decision on CNE.  In the recently launched Power Development Plan (PDP) 2020-2037, Thailand has also removed the plan to have its first nuclear plant by 2035 stated in its previous PDP.

Other nuclear front runners in ASEAN are still keen to pursue their plans

In contrast, the Philippines still shows great interest in pursuing CNE in the near future, while Indonesia is also moving forward but with a much slower pace.  The Philippines currently takes the lead in showing its interest by assuming the chairmanship of the Nuclear Energy Cooperation Sub-sector Network (NEC-SSN) under the ASEAN energy cooperation starting last year, replacing Malaysia.  The Philippines stated that the strategic thrusts under the NEC-SSN shall include “building capacities in policy, technology and regulatory aspects of nuclear energy as an option for the future in the ASEAN region”.

The strong interest of the Philippine government is also shown by its will to explore the option of reviving the mothballed 620-MW Bataan Nuclear Power Plant to ensure national energy security. The Secretary of Energy, Alfonso G. Cusi, states that DOE is looking to tap all available energy resources, including nuclear to ensure the energy sufficiency to cater the growing demand. DOE has set a rehabilitation plan for the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) which includes inviting South Korea and Russia to submit their feasibility studies to be used as the basis for their next step; a project to secure public acceptance of nuclear energy. This plan has stirred different opinions among the senators, some of them support the idea as nuclear could possibly bring down the costs of electricity, but some are not in favour as the BNPP has been idle for 40 years while newer and safer technologies now seem to be available. The Philippines Department of Finance (DOF) has also expressed its support for the proposal to revive BNPP, as there is a need to bring down electricity costs in the country. Under a study conducted by DOF, it is estimated that the revival of the plant would cost the government USD 2 billion.

Since it has stated its interest in reviving BNPP, the government has taken the initiative to continue with the effort of conducting Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) mission with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The INIR mission has been completed and according to the Secretary of Energy, the result will help the Philippines identify gaps to accelerate the legislative process and prepare for the national decision.

While it is uncertain that Indonesia will pursue nuclear energy in the near future or not, the country continues to prepare and enhance its capacity in nuclear. Indonesia’s National Nuclear Energy Agency (Badan Tenaga Nuklir Nasional/BATAN)  its Experimental Power Reactor (EPR).  The roadmap details the engineering design of the EPR to be a small modular reactor with a capacity of 10 MW located in BATAN’s largest research site within the complex of Center for Research of Science and Technology, Serpong, Indonesia. The plan has been developed since 2014 and now awaiting for the site licensing from the Indonesia’s Nuclear Energy Regulatory Agency before it can start with the construction. BATAN envisages the small modular reactor to provide power both in populous islands such as Java, Bali, and Sumatra, an in industrial islands like Kalimantan and Sulawesi.

AMS continue to strengthen and enhance international nuclear cooperation

Last year, it is also noted that AMS continued to build their international nuclear cooperation as part of enhancing their capacity. Indonesia and IAEA signed a practical arrangement to promote nuclear science and technology, as well as to strengthen technical cooperation among developing countries. Indonesia also extended the cooperation with China in the area of nuclear energy by signing an agreement with Tsinghua University to cooperate on human resource capacity building.

In the Philippines, not only DOE who builds international cooperation in nuclear, but also Department of Science and Technology (DOST). DOST signed an memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Russia’s State Atomic Energy Cooperation (ROSATOM) in 2017 and the cooperation took effect last year. Under the MoU, several programmes and priorities are set, among others; exchange of experts, arrangement of workshops, symposia, and trainings, as well as knowledge exchanges related to both countries’ laws and international treaties on nuclear energy.

Although Vietnam has halted its plan for CNE, the Member State continued to collaborate with the international community. With the support of IAEA, Vietnam Atomic Energy Agency signed an MoU with Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) in October 2018, to establish a cooperation for the pursuit of peaceful application of nuclear science and technology. (NS)

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