By Salim Osman
JAKARTA: Indonesia's plan to build nuclear power plants received a big boost after a key parliamentary commission said it supported the move, aimed at meeting the country's growing demand for electricity.
The next step is for the commission for energy, technology and the environment to ask Parliament to endorse the plan by a vote, which is now a formality.
'Indonesia can no longer rely on non-renewable energy sources such as gas and coal to generate electricity in future,' the chairman of the parliamentary commission for energy, technology and the environment, Mr Teuku Riefky Harsya, said in a statement.
'I believe that nuclear power plants will not leak if managed properly,' the Antara news agency quoted him as saying on Monday.
He was speaking after he and commission members visited the National Atomic Energy Agency (Batan) in Serpong, south of Jakarta, at the weekend.
The Yudhoyono administration has yet to present a detailed proposal on the building of nuclear plants to Parliament.
But environmental groups yesterday expressed concerns anew over the plan.
'It's costly, dangerous and there's still no safe way to store the nuclear waste,' a spokesman for Greenpeace Indonesia, Mr Martin Baker, told The Straits Times.
Mr Baker maintained that it was not necessary to build nuclear plants as the government could invest in geothermal resources instead of wasting money and putting the public's health at risk.
Other activists have warned that building a nuclear plant on densely populated Java island, for example, would risk a catastrophe because of frequent volcanic eruptions and earthquakes on the island.
Indonesia is part of the Pacific 'Ring of Fire', a region prone to volcanic eruptions and major earthquakes.
The government has not decided on where to build the plants, but officials have indicated that one possible site is in Muria, Central Java, near a dormant volcano. Other possible sites include Banten in Java, Bangka Belitung in Sumatra and Kalimantan in Borneo.
Proponents of the plan say that having nuclear plants will help the country overcome current electricity shortages, particularly in the Java-Bali grid.
The deputy chairman of Batan, Mr Adi Wardojo, said that the uranium reserves in Kalimantan are capable of producing 1,000 megawatts of electricity for 150 years.
While Batan has recommended the use of nuclear energy, any such plans require political and budget support from the government, he said.
Indonesia has been working to reduce its dependence on oil and gas to meet its energy needs.
Indonesian plans to build nuclear power plants were shelved in 1997 in the face of mounting public opposition and the discovery of the large Natuna gas field.
But these plans have been floated again since 2005 as power shortages increased. Some senior government officials had said that the country's first nuclear plant would be ready by 2017.
[With terrorists, sectarian violence (albeit less now), earthquakes and other natural disaster, the idea of a volatile nation like Indonesia having nuclear power is a scary thought.]