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Indonesian Nuclear Stalemate… Until 2014?

by Dian Abraham *


    The long Indonesian journey on the road to nuclear energy has reached the third phase after the failure of the previous two phases in the decades of the 1970s and 1990s.

   In the first phase, BATAN (Indonesia’s National Nuclear Energy Agency) carried out a joint survey for the introduction of a nuclear power plant (NPP) with IAEA in 1971, and a similar joint survey with the Italian Nuclear Italiana Reattori Avanzalis p.A. from 1977 to 80. The first phase was shelved after the members of the Preparatory Commission on Construction of NPP became divided into two opposing groups. The secretary of the Committee claimed that nuclear power was not economical; a claim that he still holds to this day.

   The second phase was started during the heyday of the Soeharto administration in the late 1980s. A plan was drawn up to build an NPP with a total power generation capacity of 7,200 MW on the Muria Peninsula on the north coast of Central Java. The promoter of the plan was the then Minister of Research and Technology, BJ Habibie, who replaced Soeharto as President in 1998. It was during this time that Newjec, a Japanese construction consultant company, conducted a feasibility study on the Muria NPP in 1994.
  Nevertheless, after severe criticisms, as well as a demonstration led by MANI (Indonesian Anti-Nuclear Society), following the discussion of the Nuclear Energy Bill in the parliament, it was approved in late February 1997 only for BJ Habibie to announce the cancellation of the nuclear project on 11 March the same year. The next phase started after IAEA was secretly invited by the administration of the socalled reformasi era to assess the Indonesian energy situation and find a solution. Eventually, assisted by the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), the energy planning study by CADES (Comprehensive Assessment for Different Energy Sources for Electricity Generation) was carried out in 2001-2002 and became the basis of Indonesian energy policy, including the new Law on Energy of 2007. And yes, as anybody can guess, nuclear energy was to be part of the solution.

The Projects and the Grassroots’ Voice

   To test the water, the government suggested a project with South Korea. The Indonesian government inked an MoU with the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) to conduct a feasibility study for SMART nuclear desalination reactors, which had never been built before, on Madura Island in East Java Province. However, the nuclear project met with resistance from the local Madurese. So strong was the movement that no government officials ever mention the project now Later on, in 2004, the then Minister of Research and Technology, Hatta Rajasa, announced a plan to revive the Muria NPP project in Jepara, which was canceled in early 1997. Like the Madurese, the local Javanese strongly opposed the project of four 1,000 MW reactors. Long marches and street protests were held. Even the local chapter of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Indonesian Muslim organization, issued a fatwa of haram (an Islamic prohibition) on the Muria NPP project.

   As a result, since about 2010 most top officials have refrained from citing Muria as the NPP site. Instead, they announced a plan to find alternative sites where the residents will be more inclined to accept the nuclear plant.

   The site being seriously considered is located in Bangka-Belitung (Babel) Province in Sumatra. The governor and the heads of the districts have already encouraged Jakarta to speed up the preparation of the site. Everything seemed well and not many local people reacted negatively against the plan.

Fukushima Effect…

   Then the Fukushima accident happened. Slowly but surely, local residents became aware of the nuclear plan in their surroundings as well as its inherent danger. They learnt from the situation in Japan and strongly doubted the capability of the Indonesian government to handle a similar situation better than the Japanese.

   Increasingly, they also realize that this very plan was previously rejected by the Javanese in Jepara. They understand that since it is difficult to find a peaceful site in Java, the plan has been moved far away to Sumatra even though those who need the electricity more are in Java, especially Jakarta. This means exactly the same thing as
Fukushima: the electricity is for Tokyo while the risk remains in Fukushima.

   No wonder the situation with the local people in Babel province these days is totally different from the pre-Fukushima time.

…and the Nuclear Advocates Responses

   In Babel Province, the local government still insists on securing the nuclear plan to build two reactors of 1,000 MW each. The feasibility study for the site is still going forward. However, nobody can be certain that the plan will procee. According to the law, the decision-making will be conducted by the President. However, it is very
unlikely that President Yudhoyono will sign a “go nuclear” decree. As a notorious safe-player, President Yudhoyono will not risk his image to adopt the nuclear option, although many of his closest officials are known to be nuclear advocates. Instead, he stated, in Japan and elsewhere, that Indonesia will not build nuclear plants.
Most of the nuclear die-hards have criticized the reluctance of Jakarta to formally declare the “go nuclear” option. These people are mostly composed of academicians at top Indonesian universities, members of parliament, and some Muslim leaders. They have indeed not learnt the lessons of Fukushima. Ridiculously, some of them boasted to the media that Indonesia will build reactors of a better design than those of Japan despite the fact that Indonesia has never built a commercial reactor and that it is probably Japan itself that will supply reactors to Indonesia if the plan goes ahead. Even an official of BATAN who was trained in Japan and worked with Japanese counterparts maintained his belief that Japan would still hold on to the ambition of achieving 100% of the electricity supply by nuclear energy even though at the time Japanese reactors were being switched off one after another. The Importance of Elections in 2014 Right now, the dream of Indonesian nuclear advocates is over. At least, until the next general election, as well as presidential election scheduled to take place in 2014. Since Yudhoyono is barred from running in the presidential election due to the presidential term being limited to a maximum of ten years in Indonesia, the key is in the hands of his successor. Should it be, for instance, Hatta Rajasa, the Coordinating Minister for Economic Affairs, or President Yudhoyono’s in-laws, who have already declared their intention to run in the election, the revival of the nuclear plan could be faster than ever. As we all know, Hatta Rajasa was the one who declared the revival of the Muria NPP in 2004, as well as being invited by President Lee Myung Bak of South Korea to visit Kori NPP during his role as Yudhoyono’s special envoy just one month before Fukushima.
   Thus not much can be done nowadays – the battle is still ahead, in 2014.

*  Director of the Anti-Nuclear Society (MANUSIA)

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