Penalties for nuclear-related offences toughened

SINGAPORE - Singapore has moved a step closer towards boosting its nuclear security, with the second reading of amendments to the Radiation Protection Bill in Parliament on Monday.

Chief among the proposed changes are: toughening the penalties for stealing or harming the public with nuclear materials. For instance, a person found guilty of committing an act against a nuclear facility with intent to cause death could face death.

Those suspected of nuclear-related offences may also be extradited to or from Singapore to face charges.

The amended Bill also requires government agencies that use irradiating equipment - for example X-ray machines used by the Health Ministry - to be licensed.

The original Bill enacted in 1973 had placed controls on the import, export, sales, transport, possession and use of nuclear materials.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced in March that the nation would strengthen its nuclear laws in preparation for signing the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM). This is a legally-binding international pact established in 1987 for the physical protection of nuclear material.

Some 149 nations have ratified it, including Indonesia and Vietnam. Both countries and Malaysia have shown interest in nuclear energy.

PM Lee said in March that nuclear safety is especially critical as Asian nations begin to build nuclear power plants. Being small and densely populated, any nuclear incident affecting Singapore would be a major disaster, he said.

The nation is building up its expertise in nuclear safety, science and engineering, with a $63 million research and education programme over five years announced in April.

A pre-feasibility study conducted by the Government in 2012 concluded that current nuclear energy technologies are not suitable for the nation yet.

The amended Bill is expected to be passed by the end of the year.