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“Ring of fire” – Indonesia hit by a series of quakes

Updated On: Sep 14, 2007

A series of earthquakes have struck again in Indonesia.

Ranging from richter scale of 4.5 to 8, they reignited fears of a tsunami, which fortunately did not come to pass. However, the series of quakes have strengthened fears of Indonesia’s decision to build nuclear power plants in the near future.  

Experts argue that nuclear power plants is not that the best way for Indonesia to get electricity since new nuclear power plants are extremely capital intensive and take years to build, often costing $1-2 billion more than anticipated.  Nuclear power plants are  subject to greater interest rates, higher financing expenses, and changes in regulatory requirements during construction.  In addition, they must rely on a vast and complex transmission network to distribute their power. The fact that Indonesia is a tropical country accentuates this problem as a network loses between 12 and 40 percent of its transmitted electricity before it ever reaches a single home or business. In terms of storage and processing of wastes, the long-term effects of nuclear power can last as long as 250,000 years after closure.

Adding to worries of financial squeeze, inefficient production and problems with nuclear waste are the possibilities of manmade accidents. The latter was raised when recently six people were injured in an explosion at the Research Center of Science and Technology in Serpong, Tangerang as the result of an experiment involving biodiesel fuel at the center's central laboratory for nuclear industry substance technology. The explosion destroyed the lab just 250m from nuclear reactor at Indonesian government research facility. Scientists at this facility were said to be working on the utilization of nuclear technology in agriculture and industry to its environmental impact. Indonesia, for example, is looking at using radiation mutation to produce quick-maturing, disease-resistant rice.

"The first floor is badly damaged. We are still trying to find the cause (of the accident). "The bomb squad and the forensic team are inspecting the crime scene," Tangerang Police chief of detectives Adj. Comr. Ade Ari said. Four of the injured are being treated at FatmawatiHospitalSouth Jakarta. "The four of them were burned on their hands and legs because of (an) oil spill," he said. 'The experiment was conducted outside of the nuclear reactor zone, so there is no radiation leak,' the head of Batan, Mr Hudi Prastowo, said yesterday.

Minister of Research and Technology Kusmayanto Kadiman yesterday said: 'The explosion was not related to nuclear activities, but I am aware that many people will try to link it to the development of the power plant in Muria…It is our task now to convince people that they have nothing to worry about.' Research and Technology Minister Kusmayanto Kadiman said the government would stick to its plans to operate a nuclear plant by 2015 to meet the country's growing energy needs. 'We are not going to shelve our plans to develop a nuclear power plant. Whatever is said of the project, we are going ahead,' he told Rakyat Merdeka daily in an interview.

But MP Bahruddin Nasori of the parliamentary committee on mining and energy argued that the explosion was proof of the country's poor safety standards, and called for a government review to its planned nuclear project. 'If a small thing like this can go out of control and explode, imagine what could happen with a nuclear power plant,' he said.

Other than MP Bahruddin, there are other active groups opposing the nuclear plans. Plans to build South-east Asia's first nuclear power plant in Central Javaby 2015 have already sparked protests by environmental activists, residents and Muslim clerics. Some clerics affiliated to the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) - one of the two biggest Muslim groups in the country - issued a religious ruling declaring the project 'haram' or 'forbidden' in Islam. These critics argued that building a nuclear plant at the foot of the dormant Mt Muria volcano makes it vulnerable to earthquakes and eruptions. Central Javasits on the Pacific Ring of Fire, which makes it prone to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Mr Ahmad Rizikin, a spokesman for this group of NU clerics, said the plant would endanger the lives of people and was therefore forbidden under Islam. 'The project would bring more harm than good,' he said. Although the fatwa was issued at the local level, NU chairman Hasyim Muzadi was said to have given his full backing to the ruling. The executive director of Walhi (Friends of the Earth), Mr Chalid Muhammad, said that the fatwa was timely because the area was prone to natural disasters and that no one could guarantee that human error would not occur.

As if demonstrating the might of nature, a huge 8.4 magnitude earthquake shook Indonesia's Sumatra region, destroying buildings in Padang, the capital of West Sumatra, killing four people and injuring 21 with the tolls still rising. Dr David Oppenheimer, a scientist with the United States Geological Survey in Menlo ParkCalifornia, said the death toll could well rise as Indonesian emerges from an information blackout. 'That's the kind of stuff that causes death, especially in the Third World,' he said, 'I think there is an information blackout at this point.'

Taking a different view of the quake, Mr Rustam Pakaya, head of the health ministry crisis centre in Jakarta said 'This quake is a test in Ramadan so that Indonesians become more patient,' Mr Pakaya said, referring to the fact that the quake struck on the eve of the Muslim fasting month.

Maybe the quake is a test in Ramadan, but certainly not the bird flu situation in Indonesiawhich has become an entrenched problem.  Coordinating Minister for People’s Welfare Aburizal Bakrie has said that bird flu (Avian Influenza) outbreak posed a serious threat to Indonesia.  He said that although “the death toll of the bird flu disease (in this country) is relatively small, namely 85 out of the total 106 human cases” the disease has affected the social and economic sectors enormously. Of the country’s 33 provinces, 12 provinces were reported to have bird flu cases, and “millions of US dollars had been spent for preventive measures and containment efforts”.

Dr Bayu Krisnamurthi, head of the government’s bird flu panel, speaking at the end of a two-day meeting with key international partners, said that Indonesia will restructure its poultry industry and step up public awareness campaigns are part of its plans to curb the spread of the virus.  UN systems coordinator for bird flu, Dr David Nabarro, also at the meeting, highlighted the difficult task that Indonesia has in controlling the spread of the H5N1 virus which was endemic in its poultry population but emphasized that what Indonesia is doing to fight avian influenza is absolutely “vital to the people of our world”.

Financial resources also are put into producing Tamiflu to combat the bird flu. Coordinating Minister for People`s Welfare Aburizal Bakrie said here on Tuesday the drug would be produced in an adequate quantity so the country no longer needed to import it. The pills would later be distributed to community health care centers across the country as well as to general hospitals in districts and provinces in anticipation of the possibility of a further spread of the disease.  (13 September 2007)

Sources:

Jakarta vows to cooperate to fight bird flu (Straits Times, 13 September 2007)

Indonesia raises total quake casualties, sends aid (Straits Times, 13 September 2007)

Tremors Force Raffles Quay Evacuation (Straits Times, 13 September 2007)

Java lab blast triggers fears over nuke plans (Straits Times, 12 September 2007)

The high costs of going nuclear for Indonesia(Jakarta Post, 12 September 2007)

Bird flu outbreak serious threat, says senior minister (Antara, 12 September 2007)

Six injured in laboratory blast (Jakarta Post, 11 September 2007)

Indonesia to start producing Tamiflu (Antara, 11 September 2007)

Jakarta to push ahead with nuclear plant in Java (Straits Times, 10 September 2007)