Inside Indonesia’s nuclear dream

Nuclear energy is on the cards for energy-hungry Indonesia. Channel NewsAsia gets a look inside the country’s nuclear research reactor and asks the experts if the country is ready for its own atomic power plant.
Samantha Yap Channel NewsAsia 16 Feb 16;

JAKARTA: Indonesia is on track for the construction of its first experimental nuclear power reactor in Serpong, Banten, near Jakarta, putting the country one step closer to building a fully operational nuclear power plant.

The people behind the reactor are aiming to meet President Joko Widodo’s goal of building new power stations to supply 35 gigawatts worth of power to meet the archipelago’s energy needs, but many in the country remain divided.

“In our opinion, like or dislike, nuclear must be included for the demand of electricity by 2025,” said Dr Taswanda Taryo, deputy chairman of Nuclear Energy Technology at the National Nuclear Energy Agency (BATAN).

BATAN, which was established in 1958, has built and continues to operate three research reactors located in Serpong, Bandung and Yogyakarta. None of them produce electricity but BATAN is hoping they they will be part of Indonesia's energy mix by 2025.

Behind layers of security, Channel NewsAsia got an up-close look at the Serpong 30 megawatt G.A. Siwabessy research reactor. The research reactor is being used to produce radio isotopes to be used in agriculture and in the medical sector.

Indonesia’s nuclear scientists are brimming with confidence and say that with their decades of experience and expertise, Indonesia should be ready to build the 10 megawatt experimental power plant.

“We have research reactors, we have safety laboratories, we have the waste treatment centre and also we have the nuclear fuel centre here, so everything is complete,” said Dr Taryo


But to turn the nuclear dream into reality, many have asked if Indonesia can implement appropriate safety and security measures.

That responsibility lies with Indonesia’s Nuclear Regulatory Agency (BAPETEN), which regulates and licenses nuclear applications. The agency is subject to review by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

“Recently in August 2015, we had an integrated regulatory review service mission by the IAEA. They reviewed our capability and our readiness to license new nuclear power plants.

The conclusion is that we are ready,” said Professor Jazi Eko Istiyanto, BAPETEN’s chairman.

Dr Dohee Hahn, a director at IAEA’s Division of Nuclear Power said the IAEA does not certify any country as being fit or unfit for nuclear power, nor does it ascertain whether a nuclear power plant is being operated safely. Both are responsibilities of national regulators.

What the IAEA does prescribe for countries with nuclear ambitions is a Nuclear Energy Programme Implementing Organisation (NEPIO) to lead and manage efforts in developing nuclear power plant programmes.

Indonesia does not have an entity such as NEPIO, but BATAN is optimistic that it is well-equipped to build a nuclear power plant.

Associate Professor Sulfikar Amir from Nanyang Technological University’s Division of Sociology at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, said he is hesitant about Indonesia’s capability to build and operate a nuclear power plant.

“I think at the moment Indonesia should reconsider pursuing nuclear energy because of the lack of capacity in dealing with the risks,” said Prof Sulfikar, who has been observing Indonesia’s journey to attain nuclear power since 2008.

“Was Japan ready when they built Fukushima Daiichi in 1970s? Were they ready? Were the Japanese ready with what happened in 2011?” he asked, referring to the Fukushima nuclear crisis in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.


Indonesia’s archipelago, which is made up of 17,000 islands – sits on the most active part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, and is consistently prone to earthquakes and tsunamis.

“Science tells us that nuclear is inherently dangerous, especially in a country like Indonesia,” said Mr Arif Fiyanto, head of the Climate and Energy Campaign at Greenpeace Indonesia.

Plans for a nuclear power plant to be built in Indonesia have prompted safety concerns across the ASEAN region.

Some of the proposed sites for Indonesia’s first nuclear power plant are located in the province of Bangka-Belitung, an island off Southeast Sumatera. BATAN’s feasibility studies found Muntok in West Bangka, and Permis in South Bangka, suitable for the construction of a nuclear power plant as well.

Said Dr Djarot Wisnubroto, the chairman at the nuclear agency: “Well, we say we live in the Ring of Fire. The fact is that some parts of Indonesia are not on the Ring of Fire. In Kalimantan, in Bangka and even near Singapore on Batam island. That side is a good and appropriate site for the nuclear power plant."

Other proposed sites include West and East Kalimantan. However, Mr Fiyanto believes places like Kalimantan are not immune to earthquakes.

“They use the argument that Kalimantan is safe from earthquakes and that it is not vulnerable to natural disasters. They keep using that argument, but a big earthquake hit East Kalimantan right on the proposed site of the nuclear power plant”, said Mr Fiyanto, referring to a 6.1-magnitude earthquake on Dec 21 last year.

“There is no valid argument to build a nuclear power plant in Indonesia. Nuclear is not safe, nuclear is not clean, nuclear is a false solution for climate change. And nuclear will not support us to achieve our energy sovereignty, so we don’t need nuclear, not at all,” argued Mr Fiyanto who has led the anti-nuclear campaign for Greenpeace Indonesia since 2008.


While Indonesia is resource-rich, pro-nuclear voices say that renewable energy sources are not enough to meet the energy needs of its vast population.

“In our calculation, if we are including solar, and if we’re talking about geothermal, about coal and about micro-hydro power, and other energy sources, then there is still the lack of electricity,” said Dr. Taryo.

The conceptual design for the 10-megawatt experimental nuclear power plant has been completed by the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation (ROSATOM), a nuclear power vendor.

If the green light is given by the Indonesian President, then vendors such as ROSATOM will get a shot at building the country’s nuclear power plants. ROSATOM have set up a regional office in Singapore with a focus on expanding in Southeast Asia.

Currently, there is no ASEAN country that has a fully operational nuclear power plant.

“If the political decision is made in Southeast Asia to go nuclear, (then they) are going to be the safest and the most advanced nuclear power plants available on the market today,” said Mr Egor Simonov, ROSATOM’s regional representative in Southeast Asia.

But the responsibility to maintain and operate the plant still lies with the respective countries.

“It is the total responsibility of the one who operates the plant to operate it safely. The licensee has to operate the plant safely and then the oversight is done by the regulator. So these are the structures that should be in place in every country that operates power plant,” said Ms Agneta Rising, director general of the World Nuclear Association.

In her assessment of the region, Ms Rising said Southeast Asia is ready to build nuclear power plants. With regard to Indonesia in particular, Ms Rising said: “For what I see and learn, Indonesia has a lot of competence in this area, a lot of experience and a lot of professionalism.”

Prof Istiyanto remains hopeful as well, saying he believes his country is ready despite detractors. “What’s left now is the president’s decision."

Channel NewsAsia’s Special Documentary, A Nuclear Affair, airs Feb16, 9.30pm (SG/HK) and 8.30pm (JKT), with an encore at 10.30am, Feb 17.

- CNA/kc

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