Nuclear in Southeast Asia – where and when?

12 August 2011

To continue with the theme of last month’s comment, it is generally accepted that nearly all the new reactors brought into operation in the period to 2020 will be in the existing nuclear countries. An examination of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) publication Considerations to Launch a Nuclear Power Programme (2007) demonstrates that establishing any nuclear power programme is very challenging. There are, however, good chances of first reactors coming on-line by 2020 in a number of new nuclear countries. Along with the Middle East, Southeast Asia is the region of the world where the chance of establishing new nuclear programmes would seem to be the best, so it worthwhile to look at where progress is most likely to be made.

Within Southeast Asia, since the late 1990s Vietnam and Indonesia have been identified as the countries most likely to start nuclear programmes. It would be fair to say that progress has recently been very rapid in Vietnam, but that the prospects for nuclear in Indonesia appear to have somewhat stalled.

Vietnam currently has about 20 GW of electricity generating capacity, with about one third from hydro and the remainder from imported fossil fuels. Demand is growing very rapidly, at up to 15% per annum and this is expected to continue until 2015. Power cuts and rationing are a continual problem. Preliminary nuclear power studies were undertaken in the 1980s, which argued that nuclear power should be introduced by 2015 for satisfying the continuous growth in the country’s electricity demand by that time and beyond.

A nuclear power development plan was approved by the government in August 2007, with the target of a total of 8000 MW nuclear capacity by 2025. A general law on nuclear energy was passed in mid-2008, and a comprehensive legal and regulatory framework is being developed. In October 2010 an intergovernmental agreement between Russia and Vietnam was signed for Atomstroyexport to build the Ninh Thuan 1 nuclear power plant, using two VVER-1000 or 1200 reactors. The plant is to be constructed from 2014 as a turnkey project and come into operation from 2020. Rosatom has confirmed that it is prepared to finance this first plant, to supply the fuel and take back the used fuel for the life of the plant, as is normal Russian policy for non-nuclear-weapons states. The anticipated cost of the first two reactors is over $11 billion and the plants will be state-owned under the state power company, with no private equity.

Then in November 2010 the government signed a further accord with Japan and said that “the Vietnamese government has decided to choose Japan as the cooperation partner for building two reactors at the second nuclear plant site in Ninh Thuan province.” Japan ‘s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), said that Japan Atomic Power Co. and the International Nuclear Energy Development of Japan Co. Ltd. (JINED), would work with the state power company on the nuclear power plant project. This will be either Cong Hai or Vinh Hai, and will involve financing and insurance of up to 85% of the total cost. Earlier in 2010, reports said that the Japanese government, with Tepco and others, offered an $11 billion contract, and also that a consortium of Mitsubishi, Toshiba and Hitachi had bid for the project.

Vietnam has nuclear cooperation agreements in place with a large number of countries and it appears likely that further reactor deals will be announced with additional partners. The Chinese are certainly interested and may offer an export version of the CPR-1000 reactor. Finally, there are minor uranium resources in Vietnam, quoted at about 8000 tU, and exploiting these is being considered.

Indonesia has a huge population of over 240 million but is served by power generation capacity of only 30 GW. About 45% comes from brown coal, 30% from oil, 15% from gas, 6% from hydro and 4% from geothermal. Per capita electricity consumption is only 475 kWh/yr but demand is now growing rapidly, with an industrial production growth rate of over 10% in recent years. A low reserve margin with poor power plant availability results in frequent blackouts. Indonesia has long been interested in nuclear and with 45% of the electricity generated by locally-produced oil and gas, as well as catering for growth in demand in its most populous region, a move to nuclear power will free up these for export.

One advantage Indonesia possesses is a degree of nuclear infrastructure. Three research reactors are operated by the BATAN nuclear research centre, the third of them at the Serpong Nuclear Facility near Jakarta being intended to support the introduction of nuclear power to the country. From the 1980s onwards, Indonesia has trained many technical people in anticipation of nuclear power development, and most of these are still available for proposed projects now. Possible technology vendors, notably the Koreans, have assisted with this. In addition to three research reactors, it has front-end capabilities in ore processing, conversion and fuel fabrication, but all at a laboratory scale. There is a radwaste programme for spent fuel from the research reactors and some (possibly high-cost) uranium resources in Kalimantan and elsewhere (quoted at 53,000 tonnes).

Plans for reactors in Indonesia have, however, been continuously delayed. Financing issues and some problems with public acceptance at proposed sites seem to be the big issues. Original plans were to call for tenders in 2008 for two 1000 MW units, Muria 1 & 2, leading to a decision in 2010 with construction starting soon after and commercial operation from 2016 and 2017, but this schedule has slipped. By mid-2010, three sites were being considered for main plants: Muria (central Java, actually three locations), Banten (west Java) and Bangka Island (off southern Sumatra, two locations: West Bangka and South Bangka). Seismic issues are important considerations for any plant in Indonesia and the IAEA is reviewing the safety aspects of sites with Indonesia’s Nuclear Technology Supervisory Agency. 

The Koreans are probably in the lead for supplying reactors to Indonesia - Korea Electric Power Corp. and Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co. (KHNP) signed a memorandum of understanding in 2007 to progress a feasibility study on building two 1000 MWe OPR-1000 units from KHNP at a cost of US$ 3 billion. The Japanese are also very interested and have a cooperation agreement with the Indonesian government.

Beyond Vietnam and Indonesia, rapid economic growth is pushing the other Southeast Asian countries into investing in power generation capacity and nuclear is now being closely examined. The Philippines is an interesting case as it did construct a nuclear plant, but it never operated. In response to the 1973 oil crisis, the Philippines decided to build the two-unit Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP). Construction of Bataan 1—a 621 MW Westinghouse pressurized water reactor—began in 1976 and it was completed in 1984 at a cost of $460 million. However, due to financial issues and safety concerns related to earthquakes, the plant was never loaded with fuel or operated. Consideration was given to converting it into a natural gas-fired power plant, but this was deemed impractical, and the plant has simply been maintained at a substantial annual cost.

In 2008 an IAEA mission commissioned by the government advised that Bataan 1 could be refurbished and economically and safely be operated for 30 years. Refurbishment, with upgrade of safety and instrument & control systems, was estimated to cost $800 million to $1 billion. The National Power Corporation then commissioned Korea Electric Power Corp to conduct an 18-month feasibility study on commissioning Bataan. One factor in choosing KEPCO for this was its experience with Kori 2, a very similar unit in Korea. Its preliminary recommendation in December 2009 was that Bataan should be refurbished, but media reports say that the government has decided against this. Apart from Bataan, the government is considering two further 1000 MWe Korean Standard Nuclear Plant units, using equipment from the aborted North Korean KEDO project. KEPCO is reported to be offering this equipment for $1.1 billion.

In Thailand, installed generating capacity is about 30 GW and about 70% of power supply is from natural gas and 20% from coal. For 2020, 45 GW of capacity is planned, and more than half of the electricity will still come from gas. Thailand has the potential to be a regional electricity hub for ASEAN countries. Tentative plans to embark on a nuclear power programme have been revived by the forecast growth in electricity demand and by the heavy dependence on imported gas for power generation. As gas prices rise, the Atomic Energy Commission and its Office of Atoms for Peace (OAP) have been assessing the feasibility of nuclear power. Initial plants would probably be built by the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT) but independent power producers have also expressed interest.

Thailand’s National Energy Policy Council commissioned a feasibility study for a nuclear power plant in the country and in the new Power Development Plan 2010-30 which was approved in 2010, there is 5000 MW envisaged, with 1000 MW units starting up over 2020-28. Five possible sites have been examined: three on the southern peninsula near Surat Thani and Nakhon Si Thammarat were ruled out in 2010 due to local resistance. Ubon Ratchathani in the east near Laos and Nakhon Sawan 200 km north of Bangkok were also listed and have now been selected, subject to cabinet approval. There were significant difficulties in assessing potential sites due to local opposition based on past experience with industrial developments compounded by the difficult political situation in the country.

Until recently, Malaysia was opposed politically to nuclear power, but has a very well-established nuclear research and education infrastructure. The Malaysian Institute for Nuclear Technology Research (MINT) has operated a 1 MW Triga research reactor since 1982 and in 2007 was renamed the Malaysian Nuclear Agency (or Nuclear Malaysia) to include its role in promoting the peaceful uses of atomic energy. This reflects some change in government policy, which is now to reduce reliance on natural gas, responsible for two thirds of power generation. It is noteworthy that Singapore has about 12 GW of (mostly gas) capacity, and any Malaysian nuclear project could be related also to that market.

A Nuclear Power Development Steering Committee has been set up, to plan and coordinate the nuclear power development programme through three working groups. Late 2013 was set as the target date for the steering committee’s Nuclear Power Infrastructure Development Plan (NPIDP), at which point the government will decide whether to proceed. In May 2010 the Energy Minister said that nuclear power was the only viable energy option long-term. In January 2011 the Malaysia Nuclear Power Corporation under the Economic Transformation Program (ETP) was set up to spearhead the eventual deployment of nuclear power plants in a 12-year time frame, subject to the scheduled 2013 decision on the matter. Eight possible site locations on peninsula Malaysia have been identified.

Singapore has surprisingly high power demand for its size (peaking at 14 GW), and is 80% dependent on gas piped from Indonesia. It is now seriously considering the prospects of using nuclear power, including small and medium-sized reactors (SMRs) but is more likely to join with Malaysia in any project there, due to siting constraints. In November 2010 the prime minister made a notable statement that Singapore “cannot afford to dismiss the option of nuclear energy altogether.”

Looking at the Southeast Asian region as a whole, it is clear that plans for nuclear there are definitely moving forward, but (as elsewhere) there is plenty of talk and only limited action. Accordingly, only Vietnam is now a likely contender for commissioning an operating reactor before 2020. Nuclear power is more likely to come to the other countries considered at some point in the early 2020s and could certainly be well-established in each by 2030.

FilesReactor-by-reactor Fukushima Daiichi restoration progress summary as of 15 August, from JAIF
Fukushima Daiichi parameters as of 11 August by JANTI

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