Southeast Asian economies are growing fast and need more energy to fuel that growth. As a result, almost every country in the region is considering nuclear power. There are numerous challenges to the idea.
Business leaders and governments fear that demand for energy could soon outstrip supply in Southeast Asia, threatening economic growth.
To help meet demand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam plan to build nuclear power plants in the next decade. Others in the region hope to follow them.
Vietnam's Atomic Energy Commission chairman, Vuong Huu Tan, says plans to build at least eight nuclear plants will help ensure Vietnam’s energy security and reassure foreign investors.
“Now Vietnam, we [have] shortages too many [times of] electricity,” said Vuong Huu Tan. “So that, investment [investors], they worry about it. So that to ensure the stable supply of electricity is very important.”
The Philippines’ Bata'an plant is the only nuclear power facility in Southeast Asia. But, because of concerns about earthquakes and a nearby volcano, it was never used.
The Philippines is considering using the 27-year-old plant but, Cirilo Bautista, the officer in charge of it, says new workers must be trained.
Our experts are already ‘senior citizens’. I mean they are getting old and others have died already. But when our nuclear power program will be organized, we can again develop this expertise, trained in other countries with nuclear power plant expertise.
Safety is not the only reason Southeast Asia has been slow to develop nuclear power plants. They are far more expensive than other kinds of power stations.
So, governments continue to construct hydropower dams and seek out new sources of fossil fuels, despite pollution concerns.
“And coal today remain[s] as a cheap source of electricity,” said Bob Kamandanu, chairman of the Indonesian Coal Mining Association. “How can we avoid that? Of course the answer to this is technology. We have to improve the technology, how to reduce the emission. We cannot avoid to use coal but we can work together to reduce emission from this coal.”
Energy experts say the challenges to nuclear power mean it will expand slowly in Southeast Asia’s energy mix.