Nuclear power plants in Singapore?
In the recent speech given by PM Lee Hsien Loong at Singapore International Energy Week, it was heavily hinted that Singapore was heading in the direction of nuclear powered plants to supply the nation’s needs. The question then is, do we really need nuclear power plants?
The reason I believe we shouldn’t embark on the nuclear power plants, at least not now, is similar to the reason people buy fire insurance. Nuclear leakages like fires are very unlikely to occur. However, in that slight chance that they happen, the consequences are dire. Hence, like people who buy fire insurance, we should guard ourselves against such dire consequences. Although the government records are largely spotless, mistakes do occur and consequences cannot be dealt with so easily. For example relocation will prove impossible with Singapore’s land area being only 710.3km2. Of course, this has been acknowledged by the government. Still PM Lee states “And yet we cannot afford to dismiss the option of nuclear power altogether.”
Anothe reason I think we shouldn’t venture into nuclear technologies just yet is that we haven’t exhausted the possibilities provided by available alternatives such as solar energy. This may mislead the majority of Singaporeans into relying heavily on the plan of nuclear power plants to supply our energy needs, which may not materialise eventually, and not adopt greener lifestyles by looking to alternatives. PM Lee acknowledges it by stating that “It will be a long time before we make any decision on nuclear energy but we should get ourselves ready to do so…” While preparations are made between the time this idea is conceived to the time of implementation, I think there is a large gap in time periods when much more can be done. For example, the government can encourage alternatives like solar energy.
Solar energy may not be of as great a magnitude as nuclear energy but it counts for something, especially if adopted nationwide. The concept of Economies of scale also tells us that once more people demand it, it will be cheaper to produce and adopt as well. Hence I think the government can provide incentives other than the BCA Green Mark programme and make such a technology more readily available. This is especially relevant to offices as their carbon footprints are generally extremely high due to their being fully airconditioned and the lights being switched on throughout the day and sometimes even through the night. Solar energy is quite feasible in Singapore with high-rise buildings and our climate being very temperate. The returns offset the initial higher capital after a few years too because one saves on electricity bills. Such self-sufficiency will be more relevant in the future as energy becomes more expensive, so why not start now? The BCA Academy building is a classic example of the feasibility of solar energy, being an zero-energy building partially powered by the sun. It was partly funded by the MND Research Fund for the Built Environment and EDB Clean Energy Research and Testbedding (Cert) Programme which shows that there is investment in this area and that this is indeed a technology that can be adopted.
It costs about $3-5 billion for initial capital to build a nuclear plant, excluding operating costs and the eventual decommissioning cost. Despite all the risks and obstacles involved, the government is still willing to undertake the project. This goes to show that if the Singapore government sets its heart to something, it has the resources and the manpower to achieve it. Take YOG as an example. Although we definitely did not gain back the $387 million spent in ensuring the games were a success, we still considered it money well spent. Why then do we not see value in green technologies in Singapore, especially those that have been present and proven feasible already?