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Thorium May Change Indonesia's Stance on Nuclear Power

DIon Bisara & Anselmus Bata
May 6, 2016 | 1:27 pm
Industry Minister Saleh Husin. (Antara Photo/Puspa Perwitasari)
Industry Minister Saleh Husin. (Antara Photo/Puspa Perwitasari)

Jakarta. Industry Minister Saleh Husin has suggested Indonesia pursue development of thorium-fueled nuclear power plant to take advantage of the abundant radioactive material in the country and ensure energy supply for industrial developments.

The minister is the latest to voice support for pursuing nuclear power, reflecting an effort to change government's stance after the country's energy council recommended the country would not need to resort to nuclear power for at least 30 years.

Minister Saleh argues that thorium could provide cheaper power compared to those sourced from coal or gas.

"Thorium is abundant in Bangka Belitung," Saleh said in a statement on Thursday (05/05), referring to the island province east of Sumatra, which is also the world's largest tin supplier.


State miner Aneka Tambang has said earlier that it is pursuing to produce thorium in industrial scale in the province by next year.

"We need it because requirements for energy will be very high in the future and we need it at a competitive price," Saleh said.

The minister said it is estimated thorium-based power plant would only cost 3 cents per kilowatt hour of energy. That compares to 5.6 cents for coal, 4.8 cents for gas, 18.4 cents for wind and 23.5 cents for solar energy.

The scientific community has said thorium based nuclear power plant would be safer than that fuelled by uranium. The element would not be able to undergo nuclear fission on its own, which means the nuclear reaction can be stopped when necessary. Thorium cannot be developed into nuclear weaponry.

Tumiran, an engineering professor from Gajah Mada university and a member in National Energy Council (DEN), said he agrees with Saleh's assessment that thorium-based power plant would be fit to support Indonesia's energy needs.

"Growing industrial activities that attract investment and provides jobs require sustainable and guaranteed energy supply," Tumiran said.

Back and forth

Under current Indonesia's energy plan — which was last revised in 2014 by then president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono — nuclear power is the country's last option of energy source over the next three decades, due to political considerations as large scale nuclear development is met with opposition from residents who live in the plant's surrounding area.

DEN met in December and February to formulate the latest recommendations for nuclear power development and reached a similar conclusion that nuclear power development is not an immediate need.

Still, the government is preparing stop gap conditions to open a possibility for developing nuclear power sooner if development of other new power sources like solar, wind, geothermal and sea waves, fails to meet targets by 2050, the Energy and Mineral Resource Minister Sudirman Said said as quoted by Jawa Pos on Thursday (05/05).

President Joko Widodo has yet to agree to DEN's recommendation and signed the energy plan into a binding regulation.

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