The CSS Blog Network

Fukushima Six Years After: East Asia’s Nuclear Energy Conundrum

Courtesy of thierry ehrmann/Flickr. (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) on 16 March 2017.

Synopsis

Human factors such as complacency and lack of questioning attitude have been  identified as key contributors to the Fukushima nuclear disaster. But six years after the incident, East Asian states have yet to address human factors to make nuclear energy safe and secure in the region.

Commentary

JAPAN COMMEMORATED the sixth anniversary of the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear disaster on 11 March 2017. Since the tsunami–triggered disaster, qualified observers assess that the biggest risk associated with nuclear power comes not from the technology of the infrastructure but from human factors. The Fukushima incident must be regarded as a technological disaster triggered not just by “unforeseeable” natural hazards (earthquake, tsunami), but also human errors.

Comprehensive reports on Fukushima, including findings made by the Japanese parliament and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), examine how human factors such as the complacency of operators due to ‘safety myth’, the absence of regulatory independence from the nuclear industry, and reluctance to question authority all contributed to the “accident”. The Fukushima incident, like others before it, accentuates the utmost importance of addressing human and organisational factors so as to prevent nuclear accidents from occurring, or mitigate their consequences if they do occur.

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Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper: ASEAN and the South China Sea

NUSHIP Canberra porting in Sydney, Courtesy of Crouchy69/Flickr.

This article was originally published by RSIS on 8 March 2016.

Synopsis

Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper may indicate a future strategic policy of reactionary assertiveness with significant consequences for Southeast Asia’s security, especially in the South China Sea.

Commentary

DESCRIBED AS ‘clear eyed and unsentimental’ by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper (DWP) reaffirms Australia’s strategic attention towards maritime Southeast Asia. While the 2009 and 2013 DWPs also had this focus, the 2016 DWP bluntly expresses Australia’s concerns over this area.

In the 190-page long document, Canberra pledges to increase capital investment in defence capabilities from the current AUD 9.4 billion to AUD 23 billion in 2025-26, mostly in the maritime domain. The concern is less what Australia will do with this investment than the consequences it will potentially bring to Southeast Asia, and its ASEAN grouping, in light of Australia’s reactionary assertiveness against China’s maritime ambitions in the South China Sea.

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NGOs, Piracy and Maritime Crime in Southeast Asia

Suspected pirate vessel in Malaysian waters. Image by US Navy / Wikimedia Commons.

Over the past two decades, piracy activities in Southeast Asia have been recognized as a serious threat to regional security. While states have played a leading role in fighting maritime piracy, anti-piracy nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)—ranging from industry and seafarer associations to think tanks and Track II scholarly networks—have also been influential in addressing this problem. These NGOs, especially the International Maritime Bureau (IMB), were able to successfully portray piracy as a threat to navigational safety, maritime trade, energy security, and a potential source of terrorism. The pressure exerted by NGOs on littoral governments in Southeast Asia resulted in greater state-to-state and regional military cooperation, as exemplified by the 2004 landmark maritime initiative between Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia—MALSINDO—to patrol the Strait of Malacca. Operation MALSINDO has been successful in curbing the number of pirate attacks and industry watchers assume that the current approach is working. » More

Chinese Investment: Boon or Bane for Southeast Asia?

Spontaneous protests against Myanmar’s power blackouts received news coverage in May because the government seldom permits anti-government activities. Even more significant were the protests that took place in front of the Chinese embassy in Yangon.

Protesters came together to raise their voice against the government’s decision to sell Myanmar’s limited energy reserves to China. Below is a comment from the Facebook page of Eleven Media Group [my], one of the largest private media organizations in Myanmar, which echoed the sentiment of many consumers in Myanmar:

“70% of electricity supplied to Yangon is from Law Pi Ta and Ye Ywar hydro-powered stations, that from the Shwe Li station goes to China, so there is a shortage of electricity in Yangon. Why? Go and cut China’s power!”

Protest against electricity shortages around City Hall, Yangon. Image from Facebook page of CJMyanmar.

Protest against electricity shortages around City Hall, Yangon. Image from Facebook page of CJMyanmar.

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Southeast Asia: Home to the World’s Longest Ongoing Civil Wars

Southeast Asia is more than just white sand beaches, temples and resorts: it is also one of the most war-ravaged regions of the planet. Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam, for example, were among the most heavily bombed countries in the world over the past century. Nearly a third of the cluster bombs dropped by the United States in Laos between 1964 and 1973 failed to detonate and are still scattered across the country. Anna MacDonald, head of Oxfam International’s Control Arms Campaign, outlines the quiet but dangerous rural scenery of Laos:

“Stepping off the plane at Xieng Khuang province we were in a very rural area. Fields with water buffalos and rice paddies abound, and the hilly countryside is criss-crossed with farmer’s fields and small traditional wooden houses. It’s a gentle, peaceful setting that belies the deadly war-time legacy which is all around – 100% of villages here have UXO (unexploded ordenance) in their fields and surroundings.” » More

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