Floating nuclear power plants

S'pore should still say 'no'

Mr Lim Soon Heng makes a persuasive case for having nuclear power plants on floating platforms (Time for S'pore to say 'Yes' to nuclear; March 15).

But there is another side to the controversial issue.

Quoting radiation levels in Tokyo 10 days after the Fukushima nuclear disaster does not allay doctors' concerns over the radiation risks immediately after the event.

Until now, there have been reported cases of human deformities resulting from the Fukushima incident. The inimical effects of radiation cannot be overstated, despiteMr Lim's sanguine attitude towards it.

To date, nuclear power is still more expensive than conventional alternatives, including non-pollutive solar power, whose costs per unit are still dropping annually with the increased efficiency that comes from evolving technology.

Raw fissionable material used to generate nuclear power will inexorably increase in price, but the sun is eternally free.

Floating nuclear power stations do not require much space in land-scarce Singapore, which make them preferable to power stations fuelled by oil and gas. But solar panels on our ubiquitous high-rise buildings or over water (such as on Tengah Reservoir) have a similar strength too.

Singapore does not seem to be able to leverage its edge in semiconductor technology to make solar panels one of our manufacturing prerogatives.

Yet, our strength as one of the world's top builders of rigs and semi-submersibles may allow Keppel and Sembcorp Marine to muscle into the manufacturing of floating nuclear platforms, utilising tie-ups with leading foreign companies.

Exporting these seaworthy nuclear stations is fine, but having one in our waters may not be.

Mr Lim said former minister mentor Lee Kuan Yew had once contemplated having a floating nuclear power station to serve our energy needs, but declined follow-up action. The visionary Mr Lee must have had good reason to do so.

Towing a stricken nuclear station away from our backyard makes it our neighbours' problem and is totally unacceptable in our geographical context.

Alibaba chairman Jack Ma notes that Singapore is special for its system of honour. We simply cannot make others responsible for a problem we knowingly created, especially when other safer options are plainly available to us.

Yik Keng Yeong (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 18, 2017, with the headline 'S'pore should still say 'no''. Print Edition | Subscribe