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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Selling Nuclear Reactors

The atomic power industries in Japan and the United States

are drawing the Indonesian government into a radioactive trap. They are offering to sell Indonesia nuclear reactors from Westinghouse and Mitsubishi. Taking the lethal bait thus far, the Jakarta regime plans to build twelve reactors by the year 2015. Here they go again!

There has not been a single fulfilled nuclear plant order in this country since the early Seventies. No executive of any electric utility is interested in such boondoggles to boil water, given the economic costs and the environmental hazards. A massive community opposition is sure to arise at the first sign of any atomic power plant intentions.

So these two companies must find foreign outlets for their failed technologies. Why not the dictatorial government of Indonesia with its presently expanding economy and large population, they ask?

Typically, the first site is a geological blunder. They Muria peninsula in Central Java rests on a seismic fault line at the base of a dormant volcano. Local residents, who have learned about the project and remember the Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine, voiced concerns and were questioned by the local police.

Indonesian citizen groups, such as International Forum on Indonesia Development (INFID) calls nuclear power uneconomic and environmentally destructive. INFID has been trying to rally support for its opposition to these atomic power projects speaking in Japan, Singapore and Australia.

The usual cluster of atomic power purveyors is descending on Indonesian officials, including some from Canada. They are starting training centers for technicians and engineers and scientists as part of the infrastructure to build, operate these plants and then deal with the terrible risks of radioactive wastes. Big, big money is involved. That often means kickbacks to well-connected officials and middle-men. The merits of alternative forms of energy — the nation is blessed with ample amounts of solar power, geothermal energy for example — are shunted aside. They have no constituency. Nor do the enormous opportunities for greater energy efficiencies as the skyscrapers and motor vehicles increase in number.

Moreover, the Indonesian military is likely to favor atomic power which facilitates the prospect of developing nuclear weapons.

What Indonesian officials, who argue that the country has to diversify its energy sources beyond oil, gas, coal, are not taking into account are all the reasons why many western countries have abandoned any further reliance on nuclear power and are now occupied with what to do with the ones operating when the horrendous costs of decommissioning come due. Usually, third world regimes mimic western technologies. In atomic power, they are being seduced into accepting what is essentially a failed, castoff technology.

What the Indonesians need is a tour of their country by residents from a large, devastated area around Chernobyl. Empty towns and villages, with their doors swinging eerily in the wind, poisoned soil, mounting cancers, especially among children, and the hopelessness derived from the constant recycling of radioactive dust haunt this once productive agricultural land.

So devastating was Chernobyl that contemporary historians consider that 1986 tragedy as a significant factor in destroying remaining support for the Soviet government.

Dictatorships like Indonesia place a low value on contrary public opinion. What they misjudge is that while many people will remain silent and not oppose the government, they become different resisters when their families, their homes, and their ancestral lands are at risk. Even apart from an atomic plant meltdown, radioactive materials and gases spread and leak regularly particularly when there are inadequate roads and other infrastructures — both human and engineering facilities — to begin with.

Nuclear installations and the transportation of radioactive materials are notoriously vulnerable to sabotage. Unstable regimes are importing major national security problems with each nuclear plant installed.

Like the rest of the world, the Indonesian government needs to wake up to the practical future of solar power and other energy efficiencies that are benign, labor intensive and self-reliant.