Two Indonesians opposed to their government's plan to introduce nuclear power visited Japan from July 3-9. From Japan, they continued on to South Korea before returning to Indonesia on July 12 (see photos below). Their visit was sponsored by NGOs working on environmental, nuclear and Indonesian solidarity issues in Japan and South Korea. It was organized in recognition of the importance of international solidarity in opposing moves to expand nuclear power in Asia.
In the 1990s, Indonesia had a plan to introduce nuclear power, but that plan was suspended due to the 1997 financial crisis. However, it resurfaced in 2002 and now the government says it will call tenders for a nuclear power plant on the Muria Peninsula of Central Java (Jepara Regency) as early as next year (see NIT 116).
The movement opposed to nuclear power in Indonesia was very active in the 1990s, but it went into hibernation after the nuclear power plan was suspended. It was slow to respond to the latest plans, but it came back to life with a vengeance in the last couple of months. In June this year, thousands of people, including the Regent of Kudus (next to Jepara), participated in demonstrations in Central Java. The issue is now front-page news in the Indonesian press. A major reason for the concern is the fact that the area around the proposed site is highly dependent on fishing and agriculture. Residents are concerned about damage to their livelihoods and industry is concerned about damage to the reputation of its products. People are already adversely affected by a nearby coal-fired power plant and they fear that in many ways a nuclear power plant would be even worse.
Japan and Korea are keen to participate in construction of nuclear power plants in South-East Asia. Both countries are seeking to present themselves in as favorable a light as possible to the Indonesian government and have various nuclear cooperation programs in place. Japan assists Indonesia's nuclear program through such things as training in technical and regulatory skills, seminars in Indonesia and Japan, and leadership of the ministerial level Forum for Nuclear Cooperation in Asia (FNCA). South Korea is even more proactive than Japan. For example, in December 2005 Korea Electric Power Corp. and Indonesia's state electricity company, PLN, signed a memorandum of understanding concerning the introduction of nuclear power to Indonesia.
The Japanese government's policy, as stated in its Nuclear Power National Plan, released by the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry (METI) in August 2006, is to "actively support the global development of the Japanese nuclear industry". The government's interest is motivated by the fact that Japanese nuclear power plants alone will not provide enough work to sustain Japan's nuclear industry through 2030. Hence, Japan's nuclear industry needs to win contracts overseas in order to maintain its capacity to support Japan's own nuclear program.
In 2006 METI commissioned the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) to carry out a study into the potential for introducing nuclear power to Indonesia and Vietnam. CNIC obtained a copy of JETRO's March 2007 report through a freedom of information request. The report identifies major obstacles that must be overcome before Indonesia will be ready to introduce nuclear power. In particular, it stresses the lack of trained manpower. Other issues include the fact that no entity has been chosen to implement the program and the fact that problems raised in an IAEA study (NPP Site Confirmation and Structural Safety 1997-2002) still have not been fully addressed.
In addition to the above problems, it is far from clear that nuclear power is the best solution to Indonesia's energy needs. JETRO's report makes the following points.
- Indonesia has great geothermal energy potential and there is also potential for hydroelectric power, but the utilization rate of these is very low.
- Indonesia's distribution infrastructure (pipelines, electricity grid, rail transport) is not in place.
- Indonesia's energy use is very inefficient. At 470 TOE (tons of oil equivalent) per $1 million GDP, it is five times less efficient than Japan.
Illustration by Shoji Takagi
Stop Japan exporting nuclear reactors to Indonesia!
We would qualify JETRO's reference to hydroelectric power with demands for stringent environmental and social justice conditions. The same applies to biomass, another energy source with great potential, but which is not mentioned in JETRO's report. However, the above points should be enough to make people suspicious of claims that Indonesia has no alternative but to introduce nuclear power.
Visit of two activists
While in Japan, Nuruddin Amin ("Gus Nun" - a local Jepara leader in Indonesia's largest Islamic organization, Nahdlatul Ulama) and Nur Hidayati ("Yaya" - climate and energy campaigner for Greenpeace South-East Asia) lobbied government and industry, calling on them not to support Indonesia's nuclear power plan. They also took part in public meetings in Tokyo and Osaka and met local activists opposed to the Hamaoka nuclear power plant. Because of its location directly above the predicted Tokai earthquake, Hamaoka is arguably the most dangerous nuclear power plant in the world. Since earthquakes are a problem shared by Japan and Indonesia, this meeting was an invaluable opportunity for Gus Nun and Yaya to get ideas, which they will be able to use in their local and national campaigns. The clearest message to come out of the Hamaoka meeting was "stop it before it starts". Once nuclear power plants are built, they become like a drug habit that the town cannot kick.
In Tokyo, meetings were held with the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) and the Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry (METI). Gus Nun and Yaya also visited Japan's main nuclear power plant makers, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Toshiba and Hitachi. An officer from the newly formed Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy Ltd. agreed to listen to their concerns, but Toshiba and Mitsubishi refused to meet them. Indeed, they even refused to receive messages in writing. However, they were put on notice that they will not be able to build a nuclear power plant in Indonesia without facing protests in Indonesia and in Japan.
MoFA officials stated that the basic principals of Japan's international nuclear cooperation are non-proliferation, safety and security. The latter covers not only weapons-usable materials, but also radioactive materials that could be used by terrorists. The officials confirmed that Japan does not have a bi-lateral nuclear cooperation agreement with Indonesia and said that at present there are no plans to enter into such an agreement. However, they also confirmed that such an agreement would be a pre-condition for exporting a nuclear power plant to Indonesia.
While there was no conflict between the statements from MoFA and METI over principals, METI officials acknowledged no responsibility in regard to the safety of any plant constructed by Japanese companies in Indonesia. They said that Japanese laws do not include safety requirements for exports of nuclear power plants. They took the attitude that responsibility for the project rests entirely with the Indonesian government. Furthermore, METI officials acknowledged no obligation to consider the wishes of the local population in regard to the cooperation currently being provided. By contrast, JBIC has environmental and social guidelines, which place importance on the participation of stakeholders, including local residents and local NGOs affected by the project.
The visit of Gus Nun and Yaya was a first step towards generating international support for their opposition to the introduction of nuclear power in Indonesia. Besides seeking support for their campaign, they also appealed to NGOs in Japan, Korea and other countries for protection. Anti-nuclear activists were subjected to various forms of oppression in the 1990s and they fear that this might be repeated. Such oppression is less likely to occur if the international NGO community is watching.
Indonesia has an active civil society, so it is a good place to begin an international campaign against nuclear power in South-East Asia. Let us not forget, however, that Vietnam also plans to introduce nuclear power and the Thai government recently announced that it wants to introduce nuclear power too. There are also noises from other countries indicating interest in nuclear power. Given that the introduction of nuclear power in one country is likely to strengthen calls for nuclear power in others, the principle of "stop it before it starts" should be extended to the whole South-East Asian region. The message to the region must be "Don't get hooked like we did!"