Villagers against Indonesia's plans for nuclear power plant
By Sukino Harisumarto Aug 26, 2007, 18:02 GMT
Balong, Indonesia - Like the majority of villagers in Indonesia's densely populated Central Java province, 40-year-old Suhadi opposes the government's plan to built its first-ever nuclear power plant near his home.
It's not that Suhadi, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, wouldn't appreciate an end to rolling power outages and rationing, but that he fears a possible catastrophe.
'I just want to raise a question on whether the government can guarantee that a nuclear power plant is totally safe.' Suhadi, a farmer of Balong village, about 450 kilometres east of Jakarta, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
'Or can they make sure that there won't be a big earthquake in this region that may trigger leakage at the plant?' he asked.
Only weeks after a recent earthquake in Japan heavily damaged one of the world's largest nuclear reactors and caused radiation leakage, residents here were deeply concerned with the proposed plant site only 1,500 metres from their village.
'Members of the Balong village community oppose the nuclear power plant!' reads a huge anti-nuclear banner fixed at the village's entrance gate.
However, the Jakarta government, which also has 230 million other Indonesians to consider, not to mention its industrial economic production, thinks otherwise.
Desperately seeking new sources of electricity to meet rising demand, Indonesia is moving ahead with controversial plans to build its first nuclear power plant, which if completed on schedule in 2017, would be the first in Southeast Asia.
It has chosen a site in the Muria Peninsula - now paddy fields and rubber plantations - at the foot of the 1,600-metre dormant Mount Muria volcano on the northern coast of Central Java.
Bidding on the tender for the 1.6-billion dollar plant, which officials say will produce as much as 4,000 megawatts of power by 2025, may begin as early as next year.
However, Indonesia is located along the so-called 'Pacific Ring of Fire,' a region prone to volcanic eruptions and destructive earthquakes. In May 2006, a 6.3-magnitude tremblor devastated parts of Central Java's cultural city Yogyakarta and nearby regions, killing more than 5,800 people. Yogyakarta lies about 200 kilometres south of Mount Muria.
Residents, backed by environmental activists who had for years opposed the government's plan, fear that the slightest tremor could trigger a fresh eruption and spell disaster for any reactor in its path. A radioactive leak could lead to human catastrophe on Java, one of the world's most densely populated islands with more than 100 million people.
'I don't want that recent incident in Japan or the Chernobyl disaster to occur here,' said Suhadi, whose red-brick home is 1 kilometre from the planned plant.
Despite their concerns, officials from the country's National Nuclear Energy Agency insist the Muria Peninsula was chosen only after feasibility studies found that the location is in the 'safest area' in terms of volcanic and tectonic activities or tsunami threats.
Hudi Hastowo, the agency's chairman, ruled out a possible eruption of the Mount Muria, claiming that the volcano has been dormant for thousands of years.
'Mount Muria volcano is in a phase of rest,' he said assured.
In a long-term energy plan released in 2006, government officials estimated that by 2025 about 4 to 5 per cent of the country's electricity supply will come from a string of power plants across Central Java, stressing that the nuclear energy was part of the country's national energy policy.
Indonesia is South-East Asia's only member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, but its oil output has fallen in recent years to about 1 million barrels per day amid flagging investment. Nuclear technology has already been extensively applied in Indonesia, principally used for agriculture, animal husbandry, health, water resources and industry.
But environment activists claim that in recent years scientists have discovered a small geological fault below the proposed location. They say there are cheaper, safer ways to generate power since the country has abundant geothermal heat, hydro-power, natural gas and coal.
The Indonesian branch of the international environmental group Greenpeace called on the Indonesian government to heed the strong protests of the locals and nature lovers against the plan.
'The recent post-quake incident in the Kashiwazaki nuclear power plant in Japan is one of many warnings which should have been seriously heeded by the government and killed its ambition to built a nuclear energy facility,' said Nur Hidayati, a Greenpeace South-East Asia's climate and energy campaigner.
The July 16 earthquake forced Japanese authorities to indefinite shut down to Kashiwazaki's reactor after a 6.8-magnitude tremblor damaged the plant.
Local community leaders had accused officials within the central government only conveying information to the public through media reports on the benefits of the plant, without explaining the potential dangers.
The only senior official siding with the villagers of Balong is Environmental Minister Rachmat Witular, who wants the government to freeze the project until it is certain that it will be safe, or until there are no more objection from locals nearby.
'As long as there is opposition from the local community, a nuclear reactor cannot be built there,' Witular said.© 2007 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur