Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s wife Ho Ching, who also serves as the chief executive of Singapore sovereign wealth fund Temasek, has signalled her support for nuclear power once again and urged Singapore to “keep all options open.”
In June, Mdm Ho said that nuclear power, which was once deemed “too risky” for Singapore, is much safer now. In a social media post, she recalled how the Singapore Government once “considered” nuclear power and set up a team to study nuclear power but chose to disband the team after deeming nuclear power “too risky”.
Mdm Ho, however, noted that “the current generation of nuclear power generation is much safer than the 1st generation of nuclear power plants like the Fukushima plant.”
Asserting that ASEAN nations need to research on the safety and security aspects of nuclear power as they build their capabilities and capacity to handle nuclear power plants, the PM’s wife said: “Newer nuclear options are on the horizon, not eminent, but within decades. Overall, for a greener earth and to reduce carbon emissions, we must master and adopt nuclear energy as a key solution.
“For now, it is better than (sic) developed and more capable nations step up their nuclear power capacity. This will reduce the demand for fossil fuels, and lower the overall carbon emissions. At the same time, developing economies can do their part to switch away from coal to cleaner gas or greener renewables.”
In one of her most recent Facebook posts, Mdm Ho discussed the safety and security of nuclear power. Noting that the approach to safety when it comes to nuclear power plants have been moving from an active approach to a passive, fail-safe approach, she explained yesterday (15 Oct):
“An active system is like a man holding on to a safety lever to prevent an accident. An example is the need to pump water to cool a reactor. If there is power failure or pump failure, water is no longer pumped and the reactor can get very hot and potentially end up with a runaway situation.
“A passive system works the other way in what is sometimes described as a fail safe approach. In other words, systems can fail, and so the system is designed to fail safely or fail in a safe mode rather than a runaway mode.
“Imagine that a system requires someone to press on a brake to stop a train from running away vs a train which eases quickly into a stationery position if it is not engaged in a drive mode. So there are different design philosophies which can improve safety and reduce impact or risks from failures.”
Mdm Ho said that potential security challenges a nuclear power plant could face include insider theft of radioactive materials, proper disposal of systems and processes for disposal and the treatment of nuclear waste.
Noting that these challenges are “not insurmountable,” she said: “Better fuel utilisation, harder and more complex pathways for converting nuclear waste into nuclear war material, are just some of the considerations for peace and security in the public space, aside from the immediate safe operations or safe failure of nuclear plants.”
Mdm Ho also addressed concerns regarding nuclear fusion – a process that could lead to increased risks of nuclear weapons proliferation and serious issues like neutron radiation damage and radioactive waste, potential tritium release, the burden on coolant resources, outsizing operating costs.
Asserting that “it is extremely difficult to create the conditions for nuclear fusion,” Mdm Ho said:
“But one advantage is that when the conditions are not precisely correct, the entire fusion process stops. This is unlike the fission process where runaways can happen if the system is not robustly designed or managed.
“Byproducts are also short lived, and the needed fuel emits weak radiation and has a short half life. This is unlike the uranium used as a base fuel for nuclear fission, from mining to disposal or storage of spent fuel.”
Noting that developments for new fission technology in the next few decades “may offer safer and cost effective energy alternative to fossil fuel” and that humans could potentially “master fusion [in] perhaps 30-50 years’ time,” Mdm Ho urged Singapore to keep options open and study the safety, security and regulatory conditions of nuclear power plants in the meantime.
She said: “Meanwhile, we should keep all options open, and learn about the safety, security and regulatory requirements of nuclear power plants so that we can hopefully help contribute to a safe world if and when various countries start to build nuclear facilities around us.”
Mdm Ho’s Facebook posts on nuclear energy are not the only instances where she has expressed an interest in emissions and making the world a greener place. In a speech she delivered at the Fullerton Fund Management Company’s 15th Anniversary Reception in January this year, Mdm Ho had said:
“Urgent action is needed. We must act now, to reduce our global CO2 emissions by 2030, to half of our 2010 level of emissions. If we can do that, we will have a better than even chance of achieving the ultimate goal of zero net emissions by 2050 for a liveable earth.”
Noting that a hotter Earth has serious climate and health consequences for the world, especially for the humid Singapore, she urged:
“In the last 5 years, however, average temperatures in the central district, where many of us are working, went up by one degree. This is 8 times faster than before.
“A big contributor is air conditioning. Do you know that 75% of our homes now have air conditioning? That means the majority of our HDB flats as well. About 30% of our energy consumption is for air conditioning.
“We can halve that energy usage with more efficient, large scale, new infrastructure like district cooling. This can help provide cooling for all households, while saving them money too.
“Should we not push harder, for a faster transition, to a cooler and more energy efficient Singapore? Globally, cattle farming alone contributes to about 10% of world greenhouse gases. Can we halve our beef intake, and replace cattle farming with more sustainable solutions?”
Nuclear safety and security …First, safety. Safety has been a source of concern from the early days of nuclear…