Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The nuclear option

Home Team Convention 2010

The upcoming Home Team Convention (Suntec Convention Centre 15-16 May 2010) will show you how Singapore is protected today from baddies ranging from house robbers and illegal immigrants, to smugglers and terrorists.

To see how the Home Team will develop in future, you must look at recent articles in Singaporean newspapers and mull over the implications of the nuclear energy option.

Out of sight: Underground caverns tunnelled into granite metres beneath the surface represent ideal "safe houses" for high value facilities such as power plants and fuel storage. Some rock caverns are 27-metres high, which makes them as tall as a nine storey building. (Source: JTC Corp)

If Singapore goes nuclear, Home Team agencies will have to up their game substantially.

The concept-to-retirement process for nuclear energy will demand watertight security at every step of the journey. This starts from the time nuclear facilities are conceptualised to the process of disposing spent radioactive energy rods.

The Home Team – which is a catchall term which covers security agencies under Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) – must scale up substantially to protect such nuclear facilities – if plans move into the execution stage.

At present, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) goes on high alert whenever nuclear-powered vessels, such as United States Navy Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, dock in Singaporean waters. SCDF officers monitor the air quality around the vessel, round-the-clock in all weather conditions, and are trained, organized, equipped and supported to detect and mitigate radioactive contamination.

Using hand-held and vehicle mounted sensors like Sodium Iodide detectors, the SCDF can pick up and identify more than 500 types of radioisotopes. Its capabilities continue to evolve and adapt to Singapore's tropical weather, urban environment and wind patterns.

These operational deployments have been carried out faithfully for several years now, and to good effect.

Going forward, America’s Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST) serves as a best-in-class template worthy of study by Singaporean authorities.

Scientists and engineers familiar with the intricacies of harnessing the energy of the atom must be backstopped by a sharp-end of well-trained, heavily-armed security elements with high levels of initiative, team spirit and commitment to mission success.

Special forces elements within the Singapore Police Force contain just such high energy individuals and could form the high readiness core of the Home Team's version of NEST.

What’s needed is a framework to direct their resources to the complexities of nuclear energy security. Ideas need to be conceptualised and stress tested, and the Home Team funded with the resources to bring these plans to fruition.

In the case of nuclear energy, this could involved equipping the Police Coast Guard with ocean-going vessels to escort high value units carrying nuclear material on their journey to and from Singapore.

It will also involve 24/7 security at nuclear facilities on – more likely under – Singapore island.

Incoming: One of the access shafts to the underground caverns built under a project managed by Singapore's JTC Corp.(Source: JTC Corp)

When the waste disposal process inevitably kicks it, it will demand high levels of deterrence as the nuclear waste is brought to disposal grounds overseas.

It will also demand a best-in-class information management apparatus. The PR officer who fretted over and worried over media reports from fallout from, say for example, red dye from an air force warplane, does not have what it takes to take command and demonstrate superior leadership for managing the consequences of a nuclear incident. If red dye made him sweat buckets, the implications of a nuclear incident - stolen fuel rods, safety and environmental issues etc - are clearly out of his league.

The Singaporean government is known to think long-term.

And there’s good reason to speculate on the reason behind the recent flurry of trial balloons on nuclear energy in the Singaporean media.

To be sure, the nuclear energy option is simply that – one of a number of energy alternatives on the table.

But you can bet that if the greenlight is given some day, things will move. Quickly indeed.

Visit the Home Team Convention from:
15 May 2010(Saturday) 1000 - 2000 hrs.
16 May 2010(Sunday) 1000 - 1800 hrs.

Location: SUNTEC Singapore International Convention & Exhibition Centre Exhibition  Hall 603, Level 6.

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