Sunday, April 27, 2014

Security implications of Singapore's 10-year drive to raise 100 nuclear engineers and scientists by 2024

Singapore's intention to raise a core group of 100 engineers and scientists who specialise in nuclear technology by 2024 means our security forces have about 10 years to up their game.

It is an urgent task as the security forces and protocols needed to safeguard nuclear-related research facilities,  radioactive material and research personnel will demand niche skills that surpass our nuclear incident contingency plans now grouped under Ops Iodine.

As of today, we are not ready to host 100 experts in labs dedicated to nuclear research. By 2024, we better be.

The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) and Home Team agencies must be prepared to raise the bar and do so quickly as the 10-year window is a relatively short time frame to introduce capabilities that our security forces lack.

Here's the back story: On 23 April'14, Singapore energised its goal of grooming 100 nuclear experts under the 10-year Nuclear Safety Research and Education Programme, which will have a war chest of $63 million set aside for the first five years. Spearheaded by the National Research Foundation (NRF), the programme forms part of long-term plans to keep Singapore abreast of nuclear technology developments in the region.

NRF Chief Executive Officer, Professor Low Teck Seng told the Today newspaper:“Many of our neighbours are looking at nuclear technology and it is important, as the Prime Minister says, for us to be aware, be knowledgeable and, as such, be able to assess the technology and its impact on Singapore — be it in terms of the potential it has for us, in terms of the risk we face, as well as the ability to harness its potential in every aspect.”

A capability infusion is likewise needed to ensure safeguards for nuclear technology will march in step with NRF's focus on nuclear tech.

Falling short would expose a major security loophole in an area of research that stands high on the wish list of the world's terrorist groups. If we fail to deter such elements, it will not be long before the world's terror elite sense an opportunity and try to test the system.

Security protocols must be drafted to oversee the movement of nuclear material that our research labs may require. These protocols would, in turn, require specialised firepower in the form of equipment, vehicles, maritime vessels and aerial assets (above) to protect nuclear material in transit, as well as rapid reaction forces that can intervene in an instant should unauthorised elements challenge the security protocols.

As nuclear material would be involved, the rapid reaction forces must pack more than just the firepower under the estab of the SAF's Special Operations Task Force (SOTF). The job of securing our future nuclear know-how will demand skill sets and know-how that go beyond the capabilities of our present-day CBRE units.

Beyond SOTF firepower, CBRE sensors and incident mitigation protocols, our intelligence assets must up their game by ensuring all individuals and organisations involved in our expanded nuclear research drive are screened thoroughly. In order to do so, we must have the smarts to know which areas of nuclear research are in demand as such research may be adapted for anti-social purposes, putting researchers with such knowledge at higher risk.

At the same time, Singapore's friends will need assurance about the type and depth of work done in nuclear technology that will put Singapore on the watch list of the world's nuclear watch dogs. In short, a corporate communications apparatus of sorts will be needed to ensure compliance with nuclear energy safeguards and signal to friends and frenemies that our intentions are above board and proper.
It is clear there's lots to do with so little time.

That 10-year lead time must therefore be used prudently.

Firepower must match brainpower as the SAF realigns itself for future security challenges in nuclear energy research.


  1. Go for thorium - safer and cleaner.

  2. David, I wonder if you're jumping the gun here. Whether your suggestions to the security forces are valid depends on whether there will be a significant change in the quality and quantity of nuclear material already used in Singapore (in healthcare and industry, for example). I assume there are existing security protocols concerning their management, and that they are robust.

    I guess it comes down to the mandate of the initiative which will inform how much research involving additional nuclear material (in quantity and quality) will be done under it, and in Singapore. If the quantity and quality goes up significantly, then yes, of course, Singapore's security protocols have to be upgraded accordingly.

    My reading is the programme's less concerned with generating new nuclear technology than understanding the logistics and impact of using it. Much of it could be theoretical and not actually involve nuclear material specifically. It is, after all, titled the "Nuclear Safety Research and Education Programme."

    In any case, if research involving sizeable amounts of nuclear material is required, it might make better sense to fund overseas nuclear labs which will be better equipped to handle the material. Again, the assumption here is the focus is on understanding the technology, not necessarily furthering the field.

  3. My reading of the news article is the same as Hodge Dislodger. The nuclear capability is closer to nuclear medicine (x-ray, radiological tracking, etc) than nuclear power or even nuclear weapons. And as HD mentioned, might not even involve actual nuclear materials. The headlines and the news is more sensational than accurate.

  4. Nuclear weapons are definitely out.

    As for nuclear energy options: Those who know, would know.

    Best regards,


  5. We have been well familiarised with how the government acquires weapons for the SAF under various pretexts. Submarines for training, CH-47s for SAR, in future, larger multi-purpose ships merely because the Endurance class LPDs are not big enough.

    Nuclear energy is not like a defence acquisition towards which the public is ambivalent. Looking at various defence programmes, it is difficult to determine at what point a decision had not been made.