WikiLeaks: Singapore’s Nuclear Energy Ambition

~by: Donaldson Tan~

Nuclear energy first gained public attention in Singapore when the Economic Strategy Committee (ESC) rallied the government to consider nuclear energy in February 2010. The ESC recommended that Singapore should begin studying the feasibility of nuclear energy as an option because the process of developing nuclear energy is likely to take at least 15 years. Subsequently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced at the Tehran Nuclear Conference that the Singapore government has embarked on such a feasibility study.

However, it turned out that the Singapore government had already set its eye on nuclear energy before Economic Strategy Committee had put forward its recommendations in 2010. According to WikiLeaks, as early as November 2008, the then Deputy CEO of the Energy Market Authority Lawrence Wong had indicated to the US Embassy that the Singapore government does not rule out nuclear power. Today, Wong is the Member of Parliament for West Coast GRC and the Minister of State for Defence & Education.

Wong told the US Embassy that the Singapore government would like to take steps to reduce its dependency on piped natural gas (PNG) which originates from neighbouring countries. Official data affirms that PNG accounts for 76% of Singapore’s electricity fuel mix while 80% of the PNG comes from Indonesia and the remaining 20% comes from Malaysia. Industry analysts expect production of natural gas in Indonesia and Malaysia to begin decline by 2016 and 2012 respectively.

According to Wong, nuclear energy is one of the options being seriously considered by the government to diversify Singapore’s energy supply. However, he added that this is a long-term prospect, perhaps 20 or 30 years down the road. The government intends to create the conditions such that the government can respond in an informed manner when the time comes that the private sector determines if it makes economic sense to build a nuclear nuclear power plant in Singapore.

Wong also stressed that Singapore lacks the land area to create a 30km safety buffer around a nuclear power plant. Another short-coming is that a typical nuclear reactor would generate about one-sixth of Singapore’s power needs. This means Singapore would have to come up with elaborate contingency plans to avoid big disruptions if the reactor ever had to be shut down. The government believes that technology will one day overcome these 2 short-comings. In particular, Singapore is waiting to see if the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Committee approves pebble bed reactor technology, which holds out the prospect of moving to multiple mini-reactors that need only small buffer areas.

Wikileaks also revealed that the government has envisioned a role for the Economic Development Board (EDB). It is noted that Singapore has an advanced, high-tech manufacturing sector, but it does not include nuclear-related products and services. The EDB would like promote investment by foreign firms that offer nuclear-related products or services to develop its own domestic capabilities in this area. The intent is to develop Singapore as a base for nuclear technology related products or services in Asia.

Wikileaks is certainly a treasure trove of information. It has illuminated the direction of Singapore’s nuclear energy ambition and provides a clearer picture of what the government is considering. Earlier this year (March 2011), the Singapore government revealed its intention to build an underground nuclear power reactor. Now the picture is clearer. A pebble bed reactor is sufficiently small enough to be installed underground. At the same time, we can certainly reaffirm that the adoption of nuclear power will have an industrial impact on Singapore’s economy in the future.

This article first appeared on New Asia Republic (see HERE). TOC thanks NAR for allowing us to reproduce it in full here.

picture credit: Wikimedia Commons