News in Depth: Should Singapore reconsider their “no” to Nuclear?

On Friday, July 4, Peter Schwartz, business strategist and member of Singapore’s Research, Innovation and Enterprise Council, said in a panel at the Institute of Policy Studies that Singapore needs to consider turning to nuclear power as a key part of its strategy against climate change.

Mr. Schwartz, who is also a SVP at Salesforce.com and a co-founder of the Global Business Network, framed it in the context of Singapore’s current reliance on natural gas;

You’re going to continue to need electricity, and renewables will be insufficient. You’re either going to have to continue using natural gas or move to nuclear power.

In this week’s News in Depth, we look at the current state of energy sector in Singapore and consider Mr. Schwartz’s call for the country reconsider its current stance against nuclear power.

Singapore’s Current Energy Landscape and Policy on Nuclear

As the Channel News Asia report on Mr. Schwartz’s talk explains, in 2012 the Singapore government concluded that nuclear power was not suitable for the small industrialized country, owing mainly to the safety risks. The “nuclear pre-feasibility study” – a summary is available here – provides some useful context to our analysis.

Singapore, the study notes, lacks indigenous energy resources and generates around 80% of its electricity from imported natural gas from Malaysia and Indonesia. The study also notes that renewable sources such as solar and wind can only augment the energy supply, as the country simply lacks the space for large-scale renewable installations. As a result, the country is challenged with finding a reliable energy source that can provide a stable baseload of capacity while also moving the country towards a low-carbon energy system.

The government initiated the study in response to these challenges, but the study found that “nuclear energy technologies presently available are not suitable for deployment in Singapore.” Despite the findings, the report did state the Singapore should play an active role in the future of nuclear technologies and safety. In other words, the door may be closed for now, but they did not throw away the key.

Reconsidering Nuclear Energy in Singapore

This renewed call to consider nuclear comes at a crucial time in the global energy industry. With the world’s attention this year on climate change in the lead up to the UN Convention in Paris, perhaps it is time to reconsider what may be possible in Singapore.

Mr. Schwartz argues that nuclear energy technology has advanced a great deal, and believes that nuclear power plants could be built on offshore barges, underground, or potentially on partnering island who have more space and may be willing to share in the benefits of a new nuclear power plant. These ideas echo similar stories we have previously explored. In May, we looked at Dunedin Energy Systems’ idea of deploying SMR (Small Modular Reactors) technology onboard ships in Canada’s arctic. The concept there, and here potentially, is to think of nuclear options that are smaller, safer and perhaps even mobile. In addition, in the last five years more advanced reactor technologies have increased safety and relability, take Westinghouse’s AP1000 PWR as an example.

In short, in the three years since Singapore said “no” to nuclear, the landscape has indeed shifted. Of course, policies don’t change overnight, but perhaps it is time for Singapore to once again consider nuclear and the new applications of safety and operational technology that are emerging today.

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