Academic journal article Asian Perspective

The State of Nuclear Energy in ASEAN: Regional Norms and Challenges

Academic journal article Asian Perspective

The State of Nuclear Energy in ASEAN: Regional Norms and Challenges

Article excerpt

THE FUKUSHIMA NUCLEAR CRISIS IN MARCH 2011 TOOK PLACE WHEN the nuclear power industry in Asia was on the cusp of a period of growth (International Atomic Energy Agency 2014).1 However, after an initial wait-and-see period, nuclear energy development plans in Southeast Asia remain mostly in place, despite safety concerns. Some countries in the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) plan to integrate nuclear power into their long-term energy plans, reflecting their governments' view of nuclear power as an alternative energy source that can help address the dual objectives of energy security and mitigation of climate change effects (Nian and Chou 2014).

To ensure that their energy supplies are secure, affordable, and environmentally sustainable, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indone- sia are moving toward diversifying their energy mix, reducing their overdependence on fossil energy, and gradually integrating nuclear power into their long-term energy plans (see Table 1). Nuclear power is projected to enter the region's energy mix after 2020, when Vietnam is scheduled to complete construction of its first nuclear power plant (NPP). Meanwhile, despite strong public opposition, Indonesia is still planning to build a small experimental power reactor (Gaspar 2015), while Malaysia has started to conduct a feasibility study on exploiting nuclear energy that includes addressing public acceptance.

The region's interest in NPPs is significant in light of not only the Fukushima crisis but also the failed experience of the Philippines in building its own NPP. In what was supposed to be the first NPP in Southeast Asia, the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP), built in 1984, never took off. Despite its high cost, estimated at $2.3 billion, BNPP has never been commissioned, due among other reasons to charges of massive corruption and safety concerns (Norimitsu 2012). BNPP is located near an active volcano and a fault line.2

The Philippine experience notwithstanding, the plans of some ASEAN member states to invest in developing nuclear power have implications for the regionalization of nuclear energy governance in the ASEAN region. This trend presents both challenges and opportunities, including better coordination, sharing of best practices, regional capacity building, and the strengthening of nonproliferation norms.

Against these developments, our article examines the prospects for building a stronger regional normative framework in promoting nuclear safety and security and preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region. We argue that while ASEAN has already established regional cooperative norms on nuclear safety, security, and safeguards (3S), the extent to which this normative framework is upheld and enhanced in the region still mainly depends on how member states interested in utilizing nuclear energy address critical infrastructure issues during the preparatory stages of their respective nuclear power programs. The existing nuclear infrastructure issues, if they remain unaddressed, can pose challenges to these ASEAN norms. We elucidate some of the major nuclear infrastructure issues in Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia-namely, legislative framework, regulatory framework, human resource development, radioactive waste management, nuclear safety, emergency planning, and security and physical protection. With the establishment of the ASEAN Community by the end of 2015, we explore the prospects for strengthening the regional framework for nuclear energy in ASEAN post-2015.

Enhancing ASEAN's Framework on the Safe and Peaceful Use of Nuclear Energy

What are the ASEAN norms on the peaceful use of nuclear energy that must be observed by member states? ASEAN first articulated regional norms on nuclear safety and nonproliferation in the 1995 Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (the Bangkok Treaty). While this treaty is primarily intended to prohibit member states from developing, manufacturing, and possessing nuclear weapons, it contains several provisions that recognize each state's right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, in particular for economic development and social progress. …

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