The Jakarta Post
As a member of the G20, we may be proud to have exited the group of poor countries, but life is comparatively cheap here. Not only are we prone to natural disasters but also to too many that are human-made. The latest example is the alarming report from the town south of Jakarta, home to both rich and poor residential areas and industries. The area in South Tangerang, Banten, also houses the Center for Science and Technology Research (Puspitek), which has a number of small nuclear reactors for experimental purposes.
Back in the 1970s, when the center was built, Serpong was not the dense area it is now. On Saturday, the Nuclear Energy Regulatory Agency (Bapeten) asked residents of the nearby Batan Indah housing complex to remain calm after it found high levels of radiation during what it said was a routine check.
Fears of a reactor accident have been called “baseless”, as the source of radiation is just one substance, Caesium-137, and additional substances would have been present in the event of a reactor leak.
This is not all that calming, though the National Nuclear Energy Agency (Batan) is cleaning up the area and analyzing the surrounding soil and vegetation, a process that is to continue into March. Residents will also be tested to measure their bodies’ radioactivity levels, though an official said the radiation exposure in the affected complex was far below a dangerous threshold.
As South Tangerang split from Tangerang regency back in 2008, the current administration would deny responsibility for how developers of residential areas gained permits for settlements that seem to be too close to industries and the Puspitek.
Deputy Mayor Benyamin Davnie insists that the mayoralty always evaluates waste from industrial activities and that the incident happened outside of its control.
As with the coronavirus epidemic, residents expect their government to uphold transparency about what is going on. Even if the hazardous waste is not from an experimental nuclear reactor, radioactive exposure harkens to Chernobyl and Fukushima, where the issue of radioactive waste from nuclear accidents has yet to be resolved.
Who should have been in control in South Tangerang if the local authorities say it is not them? If the analyzed soil shows high radioactive exposure, how can residents move? Would they be on their own or given government support? The environmental law punishes those proved to be damaging to the environment, in this case by recklessly dumping untreated hazardous waste.
The 1997 Nuclear Energy Law also upholds the right of citizens to safety. However, experience points to a lack of law enforcement or the lack of a deterrent when the law is enforced.
A statement made by Coordinating Maritime Affairs and Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan, who said Indonesia should be a “nuclear power”, apparently after he felt slighted in the economic talks in Davos, Switzerland, as Indonesia is not one, is laughable if it weren’t so tragic.
We are all for clean energy, but citizens’ wellbeing apparently doesn’t count in the basic obligation of treating waste before dumping it where humans and other creatures live.