Thursday, November 16, 2006

The case for Singapore to go for nuclear power

This question had been in my head for some time, but I am pre-empted to it by this article written by Speranza Nuova at the Singapore Angle.

Let me get my message across in the simplest and most straightforward way: Singapore should build a nuclear power plant as soon as Malaysia formally talks about building one. Why?

1) Water independence

With Newater, Singapore can finally sleep well without worry about Malaysia cutting off our water supply, or so we thought. The problem with Newater or flash distillation, is that both are energy intensive processes. You cant power either processes with solar power panels for example. If we cannot secure our power supply, we cannot secure our water supply. Be it piped gas from Natuna or LNG, we are still dependent on a foreign country for electricity generation and that diminishes the strategic effectiveness of Newater significantly.

2) Hydrogen, ethanol and biodiesel does not make sense for Singapore

Where does hydrogen come from? For most hydrogen powered cars, the fuel they use will most likely come from electrolysis of water... you know passing electricity to break water down into oxygen and hydrogen. If you live within a stone's throw from the Hoover Dam, where electricity is cheaply available, a hydrogen driven car will make environmental sense. A hydrogen driven car in Singapore, OTOH, may mean zero carbon emissions at your car, but the electricity used to produce the hydrogen is most likely generated by a power plant burning natural gas. Similarly, ethanol and biodiesel makes sense in agricultural countries like US and Brazil because of state subsidies. If you try to import the raw materials like corn, and refine it, you will find the process will consume more energy than the fossil fuels it is suppose to replace, emit comparable amount of carbon dioxide, and harder to manage at the engine level because of their corrosive nature.

3) Groundwork for nuclear weapon knowhow

Energy requirements aside, this could be the greatest by-product. If, at some point in the future, Singapore needs to build a nuclear bomb, we will need a critical mass of experts and we cannot depend on foreign talents. So why not start small, with nuclear power first. Why do you think six Arab states including Saudi Arabia, suddenly desire to build nuclear power plants, even though they are sitting on the largest crude oil reserves in the world?

4) Geopolitical non-concern

If this list on wikipedia is any good, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Bangladesh, Vietnam all possess nuclear reactors, although some are for academic research. Indonesia in particular has three running nuclear power generators, including one in Yogyakarta, which just suffered a major earthquake. Besides, American nuclear powered aircraft carriers routinely dock in Changi Naval Base.

When crude oil prices were higher, some Malaysian politicians were already urging the country to build nuclear power plants. I suggest Singapore should start planning soon, and kick start the project as soon as Malaysia loses the moral high ground to object, because a big proper plant may take a whole decade to build. After all, the two or three or four new IRs are going to consume a helluva electricity.

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