Nuclear plants 'need not be far from urban areas'

Instead, ensure safety by containing risks of accidents: IAEA chief

By Goh Sui Noi

Singapore, 3 August - Nuclear power plants need not be built a great distance from a populated area to ensure they are safe.

Rather, the safety of such plants is better managed by ensuring that measures are taken to contain the risks of accidents, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) director-general Yukiya Amano said yesterday at a public lecture at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

He was replying to a question on the safety of building a nuclear power plant in land-scarce Singapore, which Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh, who was chairing the talk, had asked.

Singapore started a feasibility study earlier this year on the option of turning to nuclear energy - an option that many other countries in the region are considering amid the rising demand for energy.

‘There is not such a rule in the IAEA that a nuclear power plant should be constructed some distance from a populated area,’ Mr Amano said in his reply.

He gave two examples of nuclear power plants built close to urban areas in Japan to stress his point. One is the Shimane plant, located just 10km from built-up areas in the town of Kashima-chou in the Matsue city in Shimane prefecture. The other, Tokai No. 2, sits 15km from populated areas in the town of Tokai.

Addressing concerns about safety, Mr Amano said that while it was not possible to eliminate all risks of accident, these could be contained in three ways to give ‘credible assurance of safety’.

First, he said, the design of reactors is much more advanced now and much safer, reducing the risk of an accident like the one in Chernobyl, Ukraine, where the world’s worst nuclear power plant accident killed 56 people in 1986 and caused thousands more cancer deaths.

The second measure related to having well-trained people run the plants, and the third, to having good construction work. ‘It is like a house: even though the design is nice, if the construction work is sloppy, then the plant is not good,’ he said.

When asked about the disposal of dangerous nuclear waste, he said the technology for safe disposal of even high-level nuclear waste is available, but little known. His agency plans to disseminate this information more actively so that countries can make informed decisions, he added.

Many countries in South-east Asia are looking at nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuels, supplies of which are dwindling. Nuclear energy is also less polluting than conventional fuels.

Yesterday, Mr Amano called on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, with whom he discussed key challenges facing his agency.

Mr Lee commended the IAEA on its work in the area of nuclear non-proliferation and in promoting the safe and secure peaceful use of nuclear energy, and also reaffirmed Singapore’s strong support for the agency.

Mr Amano arrived in Singapore on Sunday for a three-day visit under the Foreign Affairs Ministry’s International Organisations Distinguished Visitors Programme.

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