Fri, Apr 06, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Indonesia plans nuclear reactor near dormant volcano


Indonesia is forging ahead with plans to build its first nuclear power plant in the shadow of a dormant volcano, despite mounting opposition from environmental groups who fear a catastrophe in a country beset by earthquakes and natural disasters.

The favored site on the north coast of Java is overlooked by the brooding presence of 1,600m Mount Muria. Critics are concerned that the slightest tremor could trigger a fresh eruption and spell disaster for any nuclear reactor in its path. The consequences of a radioactive leak, through earthquake or eruption, could prove disastrous for Java -- home to 100 million Indonesians.

"A nuclear plant on that site could become a genocide for the people of Java," said Chalid Muhammad, director of Walhi, the Indonesian Forum for the Environment. "It's a highly risky proposition. Eighty-three percent of Indonesia is very dangerous -- prone to earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, floods and landslides."

But the Jakarta government and the National Nuclear Energy Agency (Batan) brushed aside the concerns, citing the growing population that will double electricity demand by 2025.

Companies in Japan, Russia and France are vying for the contract to build four proposed 1,500 megawatt reactors on a site near the village of Ujung Lemahabang 450km east of Jakarta. Construction of the first is set to start in two years and it will be commissioned by 2016.

Indonesia already has the International Atomic Energy Authority's blessing. Its head, Mohamed ElBaradei, visited Jakarta lat last year and said the predominantly Muslim nation should face no obstacle developing its nuclear program as it had met its nuclear non-proliferation treaty obligations.

Studies highlighted by Indonesia's nuclear agency also show the site is safe geologically despite the country's precarious location on the unstable Pacific "ring of fire" volcano and earthquake belt. The agency maintains the reactor will be earthquake proof.

"We're completely happy about safety," said Taswando Taryo of Batan. "It's a small volcano and couldn't affect the reactor."

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