JAPAN | Indonesia cautious about nuclear option after Fukushima crisis

Posted on June 18, 2011

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JAPAN | MAINICHI | June 18, 2011

TOKYO (Kyodo) — Visiting Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed strong reservations on Friday about proceeding with plans to build nuclear power plants in his earthquake- and tsunami-prone country, following Japan’s nuclear disaster triggered by a magnitude 9.0 quake and tsunami.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, left, is welcomed by Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan prior to their talks at Kan's official residence in Tokyo Friday, June 17, 2011. Yudhoyono is currently on a three-day visit to Japan. (AP Photo/Franck Robichon, Pool)

“If we could build energy sources other than a nuclear energy plant, we will choose those kinds of energy sources,” Yudhoyono said in an interview with Kyodo News in Tokyo, adding that nuclear power is “very much debatable” and that safety must be ensured before going ahead.

The remarks came as Indonesia has been considering building nuclear power plants to meet growing power demand due to the country’s rapid economic growth, with plans to start operating the first plant in 2019.

Yudhoyono’s stance suggests, however, that Indonesia is unlikely to start building a nuclear power plant during his second term in office, which runs through October 2014, amid protests from local people and green activists over the project.

Speaking with Kyodo reporters on the second day of his three-day visit to Japan ahead of his talks with Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Yudhoyono said, “What happened in Japan last March can happen in Indonesia because (the two countries’) geography is very much similar.”

He suggested that in pursuing its best energy mix, the world’s most populous Muslim country is willing to consider alternative sources of energy, such as geothermal, solar and hydroelectric power, while moving to limit the use of oil and coal as energy sources in the long run.

In deciding on whether to build a nuclear power plant, Yudhoyono said his government will thoroughly consider “all factors,” including the degree to which the Indonesian public supports the move, saying, “It’s important that people should accept and support the idea of building a nuclear energy plant.”

The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, which was triggered by a magnitude 9.1 quake off the Indonesian island of Sumatra, claimed the lives of more than 160,000 people in the Aceh Province of the island. The ongoing nuclear crisis involving the Fukushima Daiichi power plant has prompted antinuclear protests among islanders.

On the territorial dispute over a group of islets in the South China Sea, Yudhoyono, whose country chairs the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year, urged China and member countries involved not to escalate the tension over it.

Yudhoyono said the East Asia Summit in Bali in November, where the leaders of most stakeholders in the region come together, aims to foster “regional goodness” and that any problems that arise in the region must be solved peacefully.

He added that political and security dialogues may be held during the summit to address regional disputes in general, including one over the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

“I’m hoping as chair and host of the East Asian Summit, everybody will be part of that endeavor and not escalate the tension,” he said, adding that he hopes the countries will show willingness to cooperate with one another “properly and wisely.”

This year’s summit will draw leaders from such countries as the United States, Russia, China, Japan, South Korea, Australia and India as well as ASEAN member states.

With both Japan and Indonesia experiencing tsunami disasters, Yudhoyono also noted the need to mobilize every resource available in those crises, such as the military, the police and citizenry, saying that it is important to “think outside the box” when urgency is needed the most.

The Indonesian president is scheduled to visit on Saturday Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture, a city devastated by the March 11 tsunami, to meet with those affected by the disaster.

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