Singapore: no plans to go nuclear

Aceh in Sumatra after the 2004 tsunami. Indonesia’s plans for nuclear power in such a seismic hotspot will focus Singaporean minds. Source: Wikimedia

Singapore has denied that there are plans to build nuclear power plants but the city-state’s authorities have admitted that they do intend to develop a pool of nuclear experts in the next five years.

The National Research Foundation (NRF) said the experts would protect Singaporeans from radiation, adding that scientists were undergoing training to manage nuclear power safety.

“We are concerned about security and supply from pipe gas, so we will have the same issues in getting nuclear energy from another country because it’s beyond our sovereign borders,” said Dr Yeoh Lean Weng, the NRF’s energy and environment director.

A team would be able to react to a regional disaster, predict when radioactivity would reach Singapore by studying wind direction and speed, and calculate the level of radiation. This would help authorities take precautionary measures, the NRF said.

Nuclear forensics experts could detect and trace radioactive materials used to make bombs, it said. Specialists could also examine contamination in water and in imported food.

The move came one day before Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong leaves for the United States on a trip that will include attending the Nuclear Security summit.

Associate chair of research at Nanyang Technological University’s School of Materials Science and Engineering Professor Timothy White said Asean would be gradually increasing its involvement in nuclear technology, with famously seismic Indonesia and Vietnam planning to build nuclear power stations.

“We are in a neighbourhood where this is going to happen so we need to understand what nuclear is all about, if we are going to develop the correct responses and appreciation of what is happening with our neighbours.”

White added that it was unlikely for Singapore to develop nuclear power.

“The nuclear plant requires such a high level of capability to run. We are such a small country,” he explained.

Yeoh said it was difficult to attract young talent to such a “niche” area.

“Students may think that the career path is still very limited,” he said.

The NRF said it started a programme two years ago to train 100 nuclear experts in a decade but it was falling short of its target with only nine specialists selected so far.

“The fact is that we only have one research institute to build capabilities. There’s no nuclear power plant, there’s no nuclear industry,” Yeoh explained.

The NRF was now aiming to broaden career paths for nuclear scientists and increase scholarships.