Saturday, September 3, 2011

Singapore's energy options: Relooking the nuclear energy option

Please take part in the poll on nuclear power  Many thanks! -->


A power struggle of sorts is developing between Malaysia and Singapore to be the first to build and operate a nuclear powerplant.

Singapore must keep its eye on nuclear power options because the strategic disadvantages of being second to market could imperil the city-state's energy security.

In the post-Fukushima era, nuclear power is hardly a vote-generating idea. Japan and Germany have both pledged to reduce their reliance on nuclear power after the March 2011 tsunami in Japan contaminated parts of Japan with radiation from damaged nuclear power plants.

Whether we like it or not, natural gas fields that fire up turbines in Singapore's power stations are expected to be exhausted in about 20 years' time. This is a blink of an eye when seen in terms of the planning cycle needed to introduce an alternative form of energy, be it from a renewable (solar, wind, tides) or non-renewable source (oil, coal, gas).

To sit back and do the politically expedient by steering clear of the nuclear question would bring back the same strategic problems posed by the water problem.

With Singapore gradually weaning itself of dependence on freshwater from Malaysia's Johor state, botched planning in energy security could drive Singapore once again towards Malaysia for a strategic resource. In this case, energy.

The first country to add a nuclear power station to its power grid will guarantee its citizens a stable and safe source of energy. Cut through the screaming rhetoric from greenies and you will realise that post-Fukushima nuclear reactors are designed with more fail safes and with a far higher standard of reliability and mean time between failure for critical components than the 1970s-vintage reactors installed at the Fukushima facilities.

Depending on the power-generating capacity of the reactors installed in the Sin-Mal-Indo triangle, the first to market could end up selling surplus power to its neighbour at an unbeatable price per kilowatt hour.

The appeal of such pricing will rise as the last cubic metre of natural gas is sucked out of the earth.

A Singapore government in a state of decision paralysis about nuclear energy may indeed be forced to hitch the city-state's energy grid to Malaysia's nuclear powered Tenaga Nasional someday.

When that day comes, a flick of a switch up north is all it takes to get this little red dot to behave.

Singapore has walked the nuclear energy road before. In the 1970s, the government sent a young physicist to England to study all he could about atomic power. The individual carried the future of Singapore's energy security on his shoulders and knew he was charting Singapore's future with the paper of recommendations he would help pen for the government.

To his credit, he wrote off his own future by recommending that Singapore steer clear of nuclear power. It is understood he did so because the 1970s era nuclear power was still being refined. Years of training in atomic power had thus been redundant. But it did not matter as the paper he wrote was for the long-term good of his country.

That selfless individual was the late Dr Tay Eng Soon - in my opinion an underrated politician who gave his all for Singapore in more ways than Singaporeans can imagine or appreciate. I have the highest respect for him.

Our country must once again face the nuclear question.

We should do so united, with our eyes scanning the far horizon and with our hearts in the right place.

We must address this topic with the same discipline demonstrated by Dr Tay.

Options in terms of real estate must be made ready even as the go/no go milestone has yet to be reached.

Opting for nuclear power means more than having enough juice to power up your computer screen years from now.

Our increasing reliance on desalinated water will suck up huge amounts of power to convert seawater into potable water for us to drink and to sustain our industries. Until someone can reinvent the desalination process, we must be prepared to crank up our national grid well in time for the expiry of the water agreement with Malaysia in 2061. Not to do so would be strategic lunacy.

Nuclear energy will also mean the Singapore Armed Forces and Home Team agencies such as the Singapore Police Force and Singapore Civil Defence Force must up their game substantially, quickly and professionally.

Our intelligence services must do so likewise and have another pot to watch.

We may need to train, organise, equip and support our version of the United States Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST) that can guarantee the safety of nuclear fuel. Specialised arms and equipment will need to be sourced and adapted to our tropical climate, along with SOPs for meting out deadly force on entities who may want to interfere with Singapore's nuclear energy cycle.

We need to upgrade our Police Coast Guard into an open-water force to accompany and escort nuclear fuel ships from fuel source to waste dump.

Infrastructure-wise, Singaporeans need not worry that a nuclear power station will be built next door.

This blog understands that Singapore has a site in mind for a reactor under Jurong Island. It is tunnelled some 130 metres below sea level in granite bedrock and is said to have chambers some 27 metres tall - three times the height of Resorts World Sentosa's 9-metre high car park for those of you who have been to there.(If you haven't, please visit to take a look.)

Energy planners must therefore stay the course and decide what's best for Singapore.

If and when the go signal is given, infrastructure should be ready and so should our security services.

This imponderable may test the mettle of the current government's persuasiveness with heartlanders and that outreach must start right now with the MIW being more open and consultative with its people.

Their biggest hurdle is whether the average Singaporean - this means you and I - will be mentally prepared to accept a nuclear reactor on our soil.

Are you?



Further reading on nuclear power on the blog:
The nuclear option for Singapore. Click here.

S'pore's new energy source: A nuke on your doorstep. Click here.

Nuclear energy for Singapore: A look at Singapore's information management and PR strategy for nuclear energy. Please read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

17 comments:

Derek said...

Going nuclear is our best deterrence. A doomsday switch - from a poisonous shrimp to a porcupine to the Incredible Hulk.

Anonymous said...

As a student in hazards and disasters, I stand by Dr. Tay's recommendation about Singapore staying off nuclear power.

The issue for Singapore is not whether to choose nuclear power or not, but at a broader level -- what are the alternatives available for sustainable power that is also *maintainable*.

Nuclear power is not a viable option. I stress that because people are often seduced by the small likelihood of meltdown, but ignore the risk involved is not simply a matter of probability but also consequence. Here, the consequences of a meltdown are dire, especially when we consider our mass and population density, and our proximity to neighboring countries. It's no longer a matter of economics or defense, but also about ethics. We cannot simply say national interests trump all other considerations. While I'm categorically not a "greenie," but it's hard not to dismiss the number of people who will die either immediately or slowly over decades, but also the land that will be rendered barren for any useful purposes. How's that for economic impact, strain on national resources (medical expenditure and insurance payoffs), and the reputation of Singapore in the world?

The low probability calculated cannot be taken at face value. Because there is no substantive data for rigorous quantitative risk modeling (unlike huge pools of data for mundane accidents, like car crashes, in actuarial science), the probability derived is based on what is euphemistically called "expert judgment," but in essence subjective interpretation by analysts, based on a rather simplistic aggregation - no matter how sophisticated the mathematics looks like - of the probability of failure of sub-components in the system. Research has shown such technological systems are not only complex but tightly coupled. That is to say, it's almost impossible to say confidently that all possible interactions are identified, let alone, subject to assessment.

Last, while we can somewhat claim that the state of science allows us to harness nuclear energy, but engineering science has yet to develop reliable ways to maintain the facility and remedy nuclear mishaps. Unlike other engineering sub-disciplines (e.g., chemical, civil and structural), nuclear engineering is still a very, very young science. Just google the number of near-misses reported in the U.S. Many more went unreported.

I hope I make the point that the issue here is not a matter of rhetoric. How persuasive the government can be to garner support to build a nuclear power plant is moot when we consider the state of the art of nuclear technology, not from the energy production angle but from the maintenance perspective.

Sincerely,
Eric

Anonymous said...

I beg your pardon -- I mean "hard to dismiss."

Eric

Anonymous said...

Depending on where Malaysian reactors are sited and how they are run, a nuclear meltdown can possibly affect Singapore just as badly. If Singapore does reject nuclear energy due to the hazards, should it then actively prevent its neighbours from going nuclear? It is, after all, a matter of national security. The exact same thing can be said from the Malaysian perspective. Security agencies all over the region would have an extra pot to watch if anyone goes nuclear.

David Boey said...

"If Singapore does reject nuclear energy due to the hazards, should it then actively prevent its neighbours from going nuclear?" - Anonymous 4 Sep'11 4:59 AM


I hear we did this before. Quiet diplomacy with one of our neighbours. The outreach apparently even had a project name.

Remember that even as our diplomats do so, the nuclear industry heavyweights are doing the same to grow their respective businesses.

Quiet diplomacy can only go so far when matched against wheeling dealing, smart talking American and European businessmen with a huge expense account.

Thanks Eric for that long and thought-provoking comment.

I contend that a poorly-run and loosely secured reactor in Malaysia's Johor state or Indonesia's Batam island would cause us more alarm than having one under Jurong Island.

Of course if we have SMRT-style security consciousness protecting the place then we're also doomed.

Best Regards,


David

Wang said...

DB

Nuclear energy should be considered but only thorium based so as not create any meltdown or radioactive cloud scenarios. There is still waste material but not so much as normal uranium.
Thanks

Regards

Anonymous said...

Singapore goes nuclear and you will see mass emigration. The nuclear plant is safe but there is still unresolved issue of getting rid of the spent fuel that decays only after 1000 years. Singapore simply has no land area for a safe zone to build a nuclear plant. If Singapore really wants it, I would suggest to build it underground the Istana.

David Boey said...

Spike in votes against nuclear energy detected this afternoon. With 96 votes cast, it was 56% Yes, 43% No and 1% Spoilt votes.

At the time of writing, it jumped to 201 votes cast with 29% Yes, 70% No and 1% Spoilt votes.

Anonymous said...

Could the vote jump be due to some automate script or something? Because the jump looks quite unlikely

Anonymous said...

For all the talk about for or against nuclear power... and how one would vote in a referendum, one should also realise that a referendum would never happen. PAP would think that it is too big and important an issue to leave it to ignorant voters.

When was the last referendum SG had? One and only in 1962 for the issue of merger. And the options were how to merge rather than whether to merge. Its like asking whether we want the nuke plant in ubin, tekong or jurong islang. Maybe they can put a mini one on pedra branca

So going by recent history...Once it is decided by the cabinet, the govt would massage the messages for quite a while and bounce it to various levels. So media blitz on cheaper pub bills, lots of info abt safety, boogie man stories about cutting of natural gas, edmw suddenly will have many supporters of nuclear etc etc... and then they slowly push it through lor...

David Boey said...

Hi Anon at 9:23 AM 9 Sept'11,
Nice summary in your last par. Another leading indicator might be moves to form some stat board to oversee the nuclear powerplant, unless we park it under Energy Market Authority (EMA)?

Best Regards,

David

Anonymous said...

Not directly related to our discussion on nuclear power, but since we're on this topic of energy security:

Temasek Holdings is proud to announce that "three major Singapore power generation companies, each of which generates about 30% of Singapore's electricity requirements" are sold to foreign investors. (See http://www.temasek.com.sg/media_centre_responses_07April2011.html.)

Even before we consider setting up nuclear power, we also have to think harder about how would what Temasek is doing is consistent, coherent with the national Total Defense policy?

More food for thought.

Eric

Anonymous said...

Astroturf? Smells funny!

Quote:
"Spike in votes against nuclear energy detected this afternoon. With 96 votes cast, it was 56% Yes, 43% No and 1% Spoilt votes.

At the time of writing, it jumped to 201 votes cast with 29% Yes, 70% No and 1% Spoilt votes."

Anonymous said...

Why would RWS need a car park 9 metres high?

David Boey said...

Hi,
The height clearance gives the B1 car park an open and less-constricted feel unlike some other places where the ceiling is just above the roof of most SUVs.

It was also designed to take double-decker buses from up north (4.5m height clearance) with the balance for ducting for ventilation fans and other utilities.

The design also allows container trucks to enter B2 to unload directly into the Compass Ballroom during the build-up/tear-down for exhibitions held there.

Best Regards,


David

Anonymous said...

Thanks.

Do you believe the car park serves any military purpose?

David Boey said...

Re: Car park. Don't think it has any role as a civil resource. The roof isn't hardened though some of the key support pillars are.