Nuclear accident could be disastrous for small country

In a world of rapidly declining oil and gas resources, and limitations in the ability to generate sufficient power from more sustainable sources, nuclear power is a tempting final resort (Why Singapore needs to make nuclear power work, by Mr Lim Soon Heng; Oct 24).

He made persuasive arguments in favour of nuclear power, especially in his quotation of deaths per trillion-KWh of power generated caused by nuclear accidents in countries such as Japan (Fukushima) and Russia (Chernobyl), versus deaths caused by oil and gas accidents.

However, he failed to mention that these nuclear accidents took place in fairly large countries which can afford to isolate huge tracts of land and move the affected population to other areas.

He also failed to mention other nuclear accidents such as those in the United States (Three Mile Island) and Britain (Windscale). These were less serious, but nevertheless resulted in serious radiation emissions polluting the environment.

If a bad nuclear accident, involving a reactor core meltdown that breaches the containment vessel, were to occur in a small nation such as Singapore, the ensuing escape of radiation into the air and waterways (bearing in mind that our entire island is our water catchment area) would mean practically the whole island is unfit to live in for decades to come.

Where then can we move our population of about 5.6 million people?

Which country will allow our population to reside temporarily while the radioactivity slowly burns itself out? Will we even have a nation left?

While I hold a PhD in high-energy nuclear physics, I do not profess to be an expert in the field of nuclear power generation.

But I am aware that even with the vast improvements in nuclear power generation technology and nuclear safety, reactors cannot be made with all risks of accidents involving core meltdowns eliminated.

Besides, we cannot avoid accidents caused by human failures.

Even if the risks are minimised to one in a million or more, can we afford to lose our country?

Han Cheng Fong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2017, with the headline 'Nuclear accident could be disastrous for small country'. Print Edition | Subscribe