Nuclear power merits consideration as one of multiple energy sources

While I appreciate Dr Yik Keng Yeong's concerns, I still believe that Singapore should give careful consideration to the option of nuclear power (S'pore should still say 'no'; March 18).

First, while solar power is certainly a very strong and cost-effective option, it is impractical to rely on it as the sole source of energy going forward.

The main drawback of solar energy is its inability to sustain a constant base load. Output is too easily affected by changes in weather conditions, such as cloud cover in the rainy tropics. Production also shuts down completely at night.

The solution to this would be large-scale storage of electricity in solar arrays for subsequent release into the grid. However, the battery technology required for this has yet to be developed.

Even then, such an arrangement is inherently less reliable than having a constantly operating plant.

To ensure uninterrupted supply, it would be wisest for Singapore to cultivate multiple power sources. Nuclear energy can and should be part of a multi-pronged strategy.

Second, the public grossly underestimates the safety and reliability of nuclear power.

The statistics show that over the past 50 years, fossil-fuel power plants have caused far more direct and indirect casualties on a per-installation basis - through industrial accidents or air pollution - than nuclear plants.

France, Switzerland and Sweden have safely tapped nuclear power without major loss of containment. Where radioactive contamination did occur, the effects were either negligible or highly localised, and always non-fatal.

Given that the reactors in those countries are all of older designs, we can expect that new plants built to modern specifications would be even safer.

If Singaporeans are comfortable with the safety of our current conventional power stations, we must logically accept nuclear ones as well.

As for the procedure in the unlikely event of a meltdown, it would be possible to tow away a floating plant without afflicting neighbouring countries with radiation. The post-disaster containment "sarcophagus" at Chernobyl represents another possible workaround.

In summary, the relative merits of nuclear power should be recognised, and we should not be so hasty as to say "no".

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2017, with the headline 'Nuclear power merits consideration as one of multiple energy sources'. Print Edition | Subscribe