Nuclear Safety and Security dominate at SIEW 2017

Spirit of openness and the discussion of challenges the foundation at the SIEW Nuclear Roundtable, hosted by Singapore think-tank, RSIS.

The Nuclear Safety and Security: Powering Nuclear Governance in East Asia seminar at Singapore International Energy Week this year took on a very approachable feel, even if the subject matter, dominated by the “Three Ss” was anything but casual. Organised by the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies the roundtable was hosted by the School’s Executive Deputy Chairman and former senior diplomat, Ambassador Ong Keng Yong. The panel of distinguished speakers covered their own nations’ particular stances on safety, security and safeguards, in the context of a region that is still haunted by the Fukushima incident. Handling public acceptance being a major concern for newly elected, reformist, President Moon of Korea, confirmed energy expert Dr Su Jin Jung of Korea Institute of Nuclear Safety, the South Korean regulator. “Korea operates 24 units and is constructing five more units,” said Dr Jung, “But the challenges after Fukushima remain and opposition highest in Korea.”

There a number of other concerns harboured by the average Korean. “The Gyeongju Earthquake in September 2016, heightened public concern, and raised opposition to licence renewals. President Moon stopped Korean nuclear, then started it up again but with greater, new safeguards.” Roundtable participants also candidly highlighted the fact that the ghosts of Fukushima are not the only source of South Korean reticence. The nation’s recalcitrant and northern northern neighbour is creating significant disquiet amongst the ROK general public when expanding the nuclear energy industry is raised. Infiltration of the DPRK into the South’s nuclear security apparatus is a major concern with tensions between the two systems at a high point in the last six decades.

Dr Phiphat Phruksarojanakun, Director of Administration Development the Thai Office of Atoms for Peace spoke broadly on the challenges across the ASEAN region. In a frank presentation Dr Phruksarojanakun listed varying degrees of knowledge and expertise amongst the different emerging jurisdictions as the leading barrier to development. However, other issues included lack of financial support for implementation – usually emanating once again from poor public understanding of the national energy markets and the historic safety of nuclear. Both of these concerns, said the senior nuclear engineer, feed into a lack of well-trained staff and insufficient infrastructure. Such challenges create grave difficulties in the promotion of nuclear for those that believe that the energy source might be the answer to the growing region’s exponential energy demands. Dr Phruksarojanakun concluded that a strong commitment needed by all stakeholders in order to drive the nuclear message forward.

Sabariah binte Kader Ibrahim, Sector Head of International Training at the Malaysian Nuclear Agency provided her nations’ perspective focusing heavily on defining a solid nuclear safety culture as being paramount and realisation of such a safety culture, as well as the development of a new training centre in Malaysia. Malaysia is proving itself committed as a government and as a nation as a whole to the nuclear dream, legislative frameworks and statutory bodies are in place to realise the nation’s nuclear goals within the coming decade. “The [Malaysian] community is making an extensive effort,” said Sabariah, “But our aim is to create even greater awareness.”

Dr Alvin Chew, First Secretary of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Singapore, to the United Nations Office in Vienna spoke after his Malaysian counterpart. Dr Chew clearly distinguished between definitions of a nuclear safety culture and a nuclear security culture, focussing on the latter. Of safety he said, “the assembly of characteristics and attributes in organisations and individuals which establishes that, as an overriding priority, protection and safety issues receive the attention warranted by their significance,” whereas of security Chew said, “the assembly of characteristics, attributes and behaviour of individuals, organisations and institutions which serves as a means to support and enhance nuclear safety.”

The Roundtable panellist presentations were concluded by Dr Claude Guet – Senior Advisor to CEO of CEA (French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission). Dr Guet’s presentation focussed on the highly advanced and somewhat contracting European perspective. Dr Guet confirmed that European governments are actually scaling down their reliance on nuclear, interestingly with no serious nuclear incidents to point to in the two flagship nuclear industries of France and Germany. France hopes to reduce dependence on nuclear from 75% to 50% of the energy mix in coming years. “France is more or less carbon-free and the nation doesn’t want to reintroduce carbon based fuels,” said Dr Guet.

The Roundtable struck a perfect balance of intimacy and candidness. Participants felt welcomed and encouraged by their RSIS hosts to raise concerns and start breakout discussions. The case for nuclear and the industry itself, while facing challenges impeding development, is clearly in good responsible hands in this region.