Singapore plans to develop local pool of nuclear experts: National Research Foundation

The experts could increase Singapore's capabilities in nuclear safety and help authorities roll out precautionary measures in the event of a nuclear incident, the National Research Foundation said.
Leong Wai Kit, News 5 Channel NewsAsia 25 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE: There are no current plans to build nuclear power plants in Singapore, but the country intends to develop its own pool of local nuclear experts in the next five years, the National Research Foundation (NRF) said.

One of the roles of the nuclear experts is to protect Singaporeans from radiation, NRF said, adding that its scientists are undergoing training to manage nuclear safety in the country.

For example, if there is a nuclear incident in the region, the experts will be able to tell if or when radiation will hit Singapore by studying the wind directions, wind speeds, and calculating the amount of radiation in the air. This would help authorities roll out precautionary measures.

Another key area of focus for NRF is nuclear forensics, where experts detect and trace radioactive materials that could be used to make bombs, it said. The Foundation added that experts would also be able to look out for radiation contamination in the nation's waters and in food imports.


Despite the crucial nature of the work of nuclear experts, NRF Director of the Energy and Environment Research Directorate Dr Yeoh Lean Weng said there were difficulties in attracting talent to the very "niche" area.

"Students may think that the career path is still very limited," he said.

The Foundation started a programme two years ago to train 100 nuclear experts in the next decade, or 10 experts a year. However, it has fallen short of this target so far, with only nine experts selected in the last two years.

"The fact is that we only have one research institute to build capabilities. There's no nuclear power plant, there's no nuclear industry," said Dr Yeoh.

To attract more talent, the NRF plans to broaden career paths for nuclear scientists and boost scholarships, it said.


Associate Chair of Research at Nanyang Technological University's School of Materials Science and Engineering Professor Timothy White said ASEAN will be gradually increasing its involvement in nuclear technology - countries like Indonesia and Vietnam have said they are planning to build nuclear power plants.

"We are in a neighbourhood where this is going to happen so we need to understand what nuclear (technology) is all about, if we are going to develop the correct responses and appreciation of what is happening with our neighbours."

Prof White said it was not likely for Singapore to follow in its neighbours' footsteps in developing nuclear power facilities in the near future.

"The nuclear plant requires such a high level of capability to run. We are such a small country," he explained.

However, experts told Channel NewsAsia it was possible that ASEAN nations would come together to pool resources, in order to build a power plant in the region. This would mean the expertise, costs and benefits of a nuclear power plant could be shared among member countries.

The plant could be situated in a country with large land areas located away from residential zones, with the power generated supplied to member nations through an electrical grid.

Dr Yeoh said the biggest challenge to this was in member countries having the political will to carry out the project.

In addition, countries like Singapore will be concerned about security and supply, he said.

"We are concerned about security and supply from pipe gas, so we will have the same issues in getting nuclear energy from another country because it's beyond our sovereign borders."

- CNA/mz

PM Lee to discuss international action to strengthen nuclear security
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is set to outline possible collective action for the international community to strengthen the global nuclear security architecture at the Nuclear Security Summit.
Leong Wai Kit, News 5 Channel NewsAsia 26 Mar 16;

SINGAPORE: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will be speaking at the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington DC in the United States on Singapore's efforts on nuclear security.

The Summit, proposed by US President Barack Obama in 2009, focuses on global efforts to deter nuclear terrorism and strengthen the international non-proliferation regime. Mr Lee, who is attending the summit on Mr Obama's invitation, is among leaders from more than 50 countries who will be participating.

The Prime Minister is set to outline possible collective action for the international community to strengthen the global nuclear security architecture at the Summit.

He had attended the last three Summits in 2010, held in Washington; 2012 in Seoul and 2014 in The Hague, Netherlands.

The upcoming summit is expected to be the last, and will be a follow up on discussions held at the last three summits.

Mr Lee will be in the United States from Mar 26 to Apr 1 on a working visit, and will meet Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen while in Washington DC. In New York City, he will meet with industry and financial sector leaders and attend a reception with Singaporeans residing in the city.


Although Singapore does not have significant nuclear material or facilities, it is a global trade hub and recognises that its economy and security can be affected by nuclear proliferation and nuclear terrorism.

Commenting on why it is important for Singapore to be involved in this Summit, Professor Tim White, Nanyang Technological University's Associate Chair (Research) at the School of Materials Science & Engineering, said Singapore needs to keep abreast of nuclear security developments in the world.

"It's not just about nuclear bombs. It's well beyond that," Prof White said. "There are problems with terrorism; we have to understand if somebody just found some radioactive material they can do something with it, which may not be particularly hazardous in its own right but would create alarm.

"For example if somebody got hold of strontium or caesium, which is highly radioactive material, and they simply dropped it in water, the dilution effect would minimise the hazard.

"But you can imagine the effect on the population knowing that the water had been contaminated, so there are a lot of permutations on what constitutes nuclear security and how to mitigate those risks."

Professor White added that it is very important for Singapore to be able to track and monitor nuclear material, and have the appropriate responses should anything happen.

- CNA/kk