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Jakarta Post

Fifty shades of nuclear energy

  • Barikatul Hikmah

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, May 20, 2013   /  11:10 am

The White House burns down, the president of the United States, secretary of defense, and several staff members are being held in an underground bunker. North Korean terrorists demand the US to remove their forces from the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea and surrender three Cerberus Codes to activate 30,000 nuclear weapons in the US, causing the world'€™s largest nuclear war.

Have no fear, folks, as this is just the plot of recently released film Olympus Has Fallen, which happens to pop up in a conversation between my friend Kim and I.

'€œThat movie portrays current security issues!'€ exclaims Kim, a South Korean exchange student, while sipping a hot cappuccino. His voice surprises the barista who stands several feet away from our table.

I nod frantically as Kim was right. After its nuclear test in February this year, North Korea made an authoritative public announcement that it was going to attack the US. This announcement followed a Pentagon report that said North Korea '€œwill move closer'€ to its announced goal to strike the US with a nuclear-armed missile if it continued to invest in nuclear technology.

'€œDo you think nuclear warfare is gonna happen?'€ Kim tilts his head with a mix of fear and curiosity.

At that point, I really wished I had answers to all of his questions. But I did not. As a strategic studies junkie myself, I do not know whether nuclear warfare is going to happen. However, I do agree with Kim that the movie mimics the current real world fear of nuclear warfare.

To give you a picture of how lethal nuclear warfare is, the World Health Organization (WHO), in a recent study chaired by Sune K. Bergstrom (a Nobel laureate in physiology and medicine), concluded that 1.1 billion people would be killed outright in nuclear warfare. An additional 1.1 billion people would sustain serious injuries and illnesses from radiation. Thus, more than 2 billion people (almost half of all the humans on Earth) would die in the immediate aftermath of a nuclear war.

Akin to nuclear catastrophe as a weapon, nuclear catastrophe as an energy source brings equal consternation after the Fukushima nuclear power plant was hit by an earthquake and tsunami back in 2011.

The Fukushima nuclear disaster was so devastating that there were changes made to nuclear policy in the aftermath. Japan closed all of its 54 nuclear reactors, Germany shut down eight nuclear reactors and is expected to shut down all of its nuclear reactors by 2022. Switzerland and Belgium have the same plan.

Nevertheless, while the world looks on with trepidation at the nuclear crisis in Japan and the current tension between the US and North Korea, six ASEAN countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) have expressed interest in nuclear power.

Indonesia, one of the world'€™s most seismically active countries, is pushing ahead with plans to build the country'€™s first nuclear power plant. It has plans for four nuclear power plants by 2024. With growing electricity shortages, Indonesia is unlikely to halt its plan to build its first nuclear power plant.

In regard to the plan, Arif Fiyanto, a climate and energy campaigner for Southeast Asia at Greenpeace, says that Indonesia is more prone to disaster than Japan. Nuclear power plants are inherently dangerous if we build them in a country like Indonesia, which is located on the Ring of Fire.

I agree with Arif. Besides, the energy security trend has shifted from nuclear energy toward renewable energy. Why does Indonesia want to adopt an obsolete trend rather than the latest one?

With nuclear power, electricity might seem cheaper. But think about the exorbitant costs of importing uranium, and building and maintaining nuclear power plants. Add to that the expense of finding and retaining skilled labor. After all these calculations, the claim that nuclear power is more cost effective than alternative energy becomes blurry.

Countries such as the UK, Germany, the US and Japan have turned to cutting-edge technology like solar power and offshore wind energy to meet energy demands. With approximately 8.2 sunlight hours in each day and with the fourth-longest coastline in the world, imagine how much energy supply we would have if we used solar and offshore wind technology. Besides, unlike nuclear, this technology is green, renewable and does not come with dangerous consequences such as radioactive waste.

In terms of national security, Indonesia has been suffering from terrorism-related issues. On May 8, the National Police'€™s counterterrorism unit, Densus 88, raided suspected terrorist hideouts in several locations. With continuing security issues, if Indonesia built a nuclear power plant, would the government and security actors be able to protect it from a terrorist attack?

Indonesia should carefully think about the consequences of its decisions, especially when it comes to a subject as detrimental as nuclear power.

With the last sip of my iced cappuccino, I say goodbye to Kim and exit the café, hoping that Indonesia will not follow through with the obsolete energy security trend.

The writer is a researcher at the Institute for Defense Security and Peace Studies.

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