Indonesia is Preparing To Go Nuclear

Ministry of Energy Nuclear Team Meeting July 12–14, 2017 (writer in the middle) developing a nuclear roadmap

The Indonesia Minister Energy & Resources (MoE), Ignatius Jonan, in his opening speech on inaugurating the French Renewable Energy Group on 28 February 2017, admitted that the 23% renewable energy generation target would be difficult to achieve by 2025 as mandated by the National Energy Policy.

According to the data released by MoE early this year, as of 2015 renewable amounted to 6% of electric generation, increasing 0.36% per year, so only 10% can be achieved by 2025, well below the 23% target.

MoE regulation no 12/ 2017 has make achieving the target more difficult than ever. It now makes the renewable sector less attractive to investors by ending a subsidized feed-in-tariff. It also reduces the tariff to 85% of the current regional electricity production cost . According to many analysts, renewable energy generation will realistically only reach 8% by 2025.

These situations will open the Nuclear option to fill the gap, which has been put as last option by the National Energy Policy (Government Regulation No 79/2014)

Making nuclear the last option was actually against the higher Energy Law (Law No 30/2007), which stated that all forms of energy are equal therefore cannot be discriminated by putting as last option. The National Long Term Development Planning Law (Law No 17/2007) also mandated the use of nuclear power by 2024. — This happen because Nuclear has been politicized by some anti-nuclear element in the National Energy Council.

The current parliament position is now in full support of nuclear. In several hearings with MoE, The Energy commission has recommended nuclear power be put into the energy mix by 2025. Dr Satya Yudha, Deputy Chairman of Energy Commission has always said that Indonesia should jump into the Nuclear bandwagon sooner, not later.

Dr Kurtubi, a long proponent of nuclear energy in the parliament, has even setup a nuclear caucus to push for the nuclear agenda, saying

“With Nuclear we could kill several birds with one stone, assuring a large scale power supply and providing energy without carbon emissions.”

Realizing the possibility that a 23% renewable energy target or 25% electricity, is difficult to reach, the State electricity company PT PLN has revived Indonesia’s ambition to operate nuclear power plants, officially putting nuclear, specifically thorium-based nuclear power plant in its 2017– 2026 new business plan (RUPTL) as an viable option awaiting government approval of Nuclear.

Among several Nuclear Power Plant (NPP) proposals that have been made by many companies from all around the world, only ThorCon Power, a American Nuclear start-up, has make concrete and serious offers to the Indonesian Government.

Together with Indonesia State Oil Company PERTAMINA, PLN formed the Indonesian Thorium Consortium (ITC) together with ThorCon Power in 2015. ITC has finished a 10 month Pre-Feasibility study of development of a ThorCon Power 500 MW prototype of Molten Salt Reactor based Power Plant, Project TMSR-500 . According to PLN director of planning, Nicke Widyawati, ThorCon technology is a very promising technology with electricity production cost which is competitive with coal, and the barge concept perfectly suits Indonesia needs and geography.

ThorCon TMSR-500 each is producing 500 MW

The thorium initiative which was started by Coordinating Ministry of Maritime (CMM) in 2015 has gained attention and momentum in Indonesia, which has propagate to The Ministry of National Development Planning which then put the Development of Thorium Based Nuclear Power Plant as a National Priority Program in the proposed Government Working Plan 2018, awaiting the President’s approval to be discussed with the Parliament.

The MoE has set-up a Nuclear team (picture above), which has met several times to prepare the Nuclear Power Plant Construction Roadmap called for in Presidential Regulation no 22/2017. This Roadmap will be the basis for creating the Nuclear Energy Program Implementing Organization (NEPIO) in 2018.

The Coordinating Ministry of Maritime has a vision that Indonesia should not only build a Nuclear Power Plant as engineering procurement (EPC), but also develop a National Nuclear Industry . Based on this vision CMM is developing a white paper on Development of National Nuclear Industry based the molten salt reactor and thorium fuel cycle.

Together with the Roadmap developed by MoE the CMM white paper will be the basis for the President of Indonesia to make a well informed decision to Open the Nuclear door. The keyword here is “well informed”; past Presidents have received nuclear information clouded with fear mongering and anti-nuclear sentiment

Meanwhile ThorCon is moving forward, to do a technology assessment on ThorCon design and economic independently by The Indonesia Nuclear Professional Association (APRONUKI) using IAEA INPRO Methodology. According to Besar Winarto, APRONUKI President, Indonesia Nuclear Agency (BATAN) & Agency for Assessment & Application of Technology (BPPT) has agreed to be the reviewer along with several International Nuclear expert from US, Europe and Japan. The assessment is to be completed by the end of 2017. If satisfactory, BATAN and BPPT have agreed to endorse ThorCon to the Indonesian government to be built as Indonesia’s first nuclear power plant.

If all these activities converge accordingly, a source in the Presidential Office says the President is seriously considering opening the nuclear door before the end of this year. The construction of the TMSR-500 Project could start before 2019 and the plant be commissioned before 2024.

If Indonesia has a TMSR-500 operating before 2024, it will be a major accomplishment for the Indonesia as a Nation, fulfilling the 1950’s vision of Soekarno, Indonesia ‘s founding father. It will also make nuclear history as the first commercially operated MSR in the world.

True, there are a lot of “Ifs” in this picture, but the bigger IF is, if these moves toward nuclear power is not pursue now then Indonesia could potentially fall into Middle Income Trap, which has been the concern of The Minister of Finance. Indonesia needs to reach $6000 GDP per capita by 2025; to get there Indonesia needs to double its installed electric power generation capacity to a minimum of 115 GW by 2025, and there is no way to achieve that without nuclear power.

Jakarta 23 July 2017

Bob S. Effendi

Founder of Indonesia Nuclear Profesional Assocation and member of the Ministry of Energy Nuclear Roadmap Team.