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Energy and Human Security Programme

In the face of supply instability and price volatility against the backdrop of surging global demand, energy security has been traditionally viewed among Asian countries as an indispensible component of their development strategies. As Asia has emerged from the financial crisis relatively unscathed compared to the West, Asian countries remain tipped for rapid economic growth. The sustenance of such development hinges in no small part on energy security. However, it is also important to note that energy security is not merely associated with the guarantee of secure access to affordably-priced fuel sources. The heavy reliance on fossil fuels carries far-reaching environmental and socio-economic consequences beyond the mere notion of supply security. These concerns include climate change with its attendant problems of rising sea levels and risks posed to the ecosystem, as well as political impact in the face of public dissatisfaction over rising energy prices.

There has been increased awareness of the consequences brought about by climate change and the continued volatility of fossil fuels which will most probably continue to make up the bulk of the present and future energy mix. In Asia, where the need to reconcile socio-economic development and environmental protection becomes a pertinent issue, strategies are sought after to sustainably harness energy resources while limiting the impact on the environment. Such a strategy is generally two-pronged; consisting of energy efficiency measures and exploration of viable alternative energy solutions. The latter aspect deserves attention. To date, there has been widespread interest shown by Asian countries in clean energy technologies. Clean energy technologies not only help to reduce carbon emissions but also contribute to the reduced dependence on fossil fuels whose prices are often subject to geopolitical and market disruptions. 

East Asia in particular has recently witnessed rapid progress in the utilisation of clean energy technologies. For instance, China has emerged as the forerunner in wind energy development and is fast gaining ground on the solar energy sector. The countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are certainly not far behind in the exploration of alternative energy sources, given the relative abundance of such resources in the region. Further, serious interest has been shown among countries across Asia in the use of nuclear energy while existing nuclear-users in the region, such as China, Japan and South Korea, are expanding its use. In the ASEAN region, there has also been what is coined a ‘nuclear renaissance’ as members of this regional organisation mull over its potential inclusion in their energy mix.

However, the development of alternative energy sources, just like the case of fossil fuels, is not a simple case of demand and supply. This strategy is fraught with a range of pertinent issues that have framed current intense debates among policymakers, the academe and non-governmental organisations. For instance, despite being an attractive energy option, nuclear energy is saddled with inherent risks associated to radioactive waste disposal and nuclear weapons proliferation – all of which carry transnational security consequences that cannot be overlooked. While renewable energy technologies continue to mature, coherent policy incentives and support will need to be provided by governments to enlarge the former’s share in a country’s energy mix. While countries such as China and the Philippines have pioneered in introducing renewable energy laws, these need to be improved further to fully realise the potential of renewable energy. On top of that, deficiencies in energy policymaking shown in Asia have resulted in questions regarding the ability of governments in the region to adequately exercise energy governance, as the rise in civil society organisations (CSOs) in the contemporary nuclear debate has illustrated. In sum, energy security for Asia in the near future will be confronted by a multifaceted array of factors beyond the notion of supply security. Against the emergent concerns revolving around environment and technological safety for instance, the concept of energy security has to broaden in order to address the interdependent nature of these problems. This paradigm will require transcending the state actor level to involve non-governmental actors while also stressing the need for greater multilateral cooperation. A multifaceted approach to energy security therefore constitutes the framework for this research programme.

» Programme Activities

Supported by the MacArthur Foundation, the research programme on energy and human security presently examines two major issues: the future of nuclear energy and governance in Southeast Asia and energy vulnerability and collaboration in East Asia. However, while these fields are often discussed in a geopolitical context, the programme approaches them through a distinct human security paradigm which stresses not just availability, consistency, and non-discriminatory access but also considers inter-related factors involved, such as environmental and security risks. The programme has produced a wide range of publications through RSIS and the Centre for NTS Studies. To date, it has organised and will be embarking upon the following projects to further the programme’s research pursuits:

  • Project on Nuclear Energy and Human Security: Critical Debates

In the face of climate change and a projected increase in power consumption, nuclear energy has become a focal point of interest among policymakers across Asia. As such, there has been significant research focusing on the potential of nuclear energy expansion in the region. However, the road to nuclear energy development in the region is not entirely smooth-sailing. Pertinent issues related to environmental, economic and security risks continue to dominate the nuclear debate. As such, the project titled Nuclear Energy and Human Security: Critical Debates was initiated in September 2009 in an attempt to explore these issues.

As part of this project, a workshop on Nuclear Energy and Human Security was convened on 23 April 2010, at Traders Hotel in Singapore. It brought together a total of about 60 participants, mostly from the Singapore Government, to engage in a day’s discussion on the merits and drawbacks of nuclear energy in the context of the environment, economics, security. In addition, the role of CSOs in nuclear energy policymaking was also discussed,

It is hoped that the debates fleshed out in the workshop will help policymakers arrive at policy decisions more effectively and help anyone interested in nuclear energy understand the debated issues more thoroughly.

As a follow-up to the workshop, a commentary titled ‘Can Nuclear Energy Enhance Nuclear Security in Southeast Asia?’, written by Ryan Clarke, Nur Azha Putra, Mely Caballero-Anthony and Rajesh Basrur, was published.

Summaries of Papers Presented

A total of seven chapters were presented: two each on the environmental, economic and security aspects, as well as one on the role of civil society. These papers will contribute to an edited volume titled Nuclear Energy and Human Security: Critical Debates. The brief summaries of these chapters are outlined below.

Nuclear Power and the Environment: Facts vs Fiction

Dr T S Gopi Rethinaraj
Assistant Professor
Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy
National University of Singapore

Contrary to common public perceptions, nuclear energy does not pose environmental risks which are ‘dramatic’. The radiation levels of nuclear reactors are often lower than the background radiation humans are typically exposed to and there is no scientific consensus on the implications of low-level radiation. Moreover, nuclear reactors do not explode like a nuclear bomb since a reactor meltdown can be well contained with the advent of modern, safer nuclear technology. Given the present context of rising energy needs and climate change, a complete halt in nuclear power plant construction and spent fuel processing is almost impossible to achieve. Nonetheless, environmental risks associated with nuclear energy can still be effectively controlled through attainable levels of safety in nuclear energy operations.

Critical Environmental Questions: Nuclear Energy and Human Security in Asia

Associate Professor Simon Tay
Singapore Institute of International Affairs

The environmental risks of nuclear energy have to be viewed from a broader perspective. Rather than just focusing on the technical aspects of nuclear operations, the culture of safety has to be scrutinised. In the case of Southeast Asia, the culture of safety in common industrial operations leaves much to be desired. Compounding this situation in Southeast Asia is a prevailing culture of secrecy in policymaking that obstructs better public understanding. This has to be rectified with transparent and publicly-accountable nuclear energy policymaking. The conservative, sustainable development perspective does not exclude the nuclear option. However, a precautionary principle needs to be heeded in nuclear energy policymaking.

Nuclear Energy and Economic Costs

Professor Kazuaki Matsui
Executive Director
Institute of Applied Energy

Among several factors which need to be considered for the costing of nuclear-generated electricity, expenses associated with facility siting, licensing, uncertainty risks and construction capital costs are arguably most critical. These investment capital costs account for 60 per cent of the total cost of nuclear-generated electricity, which is highly sensitive to overnight construction costs and investment capital. Nonetheless, in comparison with other clean energy options, nuclear remains attractive in terms of cost risks. To provide for an investment climate conducive for nuclear industries, investment risks need to be better understood and limited to acceptable levels.

Economics of Nuclear and Renewable Electricity

Dr Mark Diesendorf
Deputy Director
Institute of Environmental Studies
University of New South Wales

The costs of nuclear-generated electricity can only be accurately evaluated alongside various other clean energy alternatives. Nuclear energy is only economical at the commercial and pre-commercial stages. It still requires backup in times of contingency, thus hiding the true costs. Moreover, accurate gauges of real nuclear-generated electricity costs are also hindered by the tendency of planners to accept nuclear plant manufacturers’ cost estimates, of selecting unrealistically low discount rates and of using accounting methods that underestimate capital costs. Major financial hurdles exist to hinder attempts in uncovering lower-cost nuclear technologies such as modularised reactors. The key drawback of nuclear energy lies in proliferation risks, with which renewable energy technologies are not saddled.

Nuclear Energy and Security Risks: Is the Expansion of Nuclear Power Compatible with Global Peace and Security?

Dr Jor-Shan Choi
Global Centre of Excellence Program
Nuclear Education and Research Initiative
University of Tokyo

Despite its contributions and great potential, the expansion of nuclear faces significant challenges in nuclear proliferation, security, and spent fuel/waste management. Other threats to the expansion of nuclear energy includes nuclear terrorism executed by rogue actors, weak enforcement of the non-proliferation regime, the potential of nuclear weaponisation under the guise of peaceful uses, and closed fuel cycle as a ‘latent proliferation’ concern. The world can no longer afford to continue a ‘business-as-usual’ approach towards nuclear security. A new strategy that helps secure and draw down excess weapons-usable materials and leverage upon technology to reduce the risk of nuclear proliferation should be adopted by the international community.

Security Aspects of the Growth of Nuclear Power

Mr Miles A. Pomper
Senior Research Associate
James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies
Washington DC, United States of America

Joint Paper with

Mr Cole Harvey
Research Associate
James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies
Washington DC, United States of America

Uranium enrichment and spent fuel reprocessing can support the civilian nuclear power industry, but they also can be exploited to generate fissile material for nuclear weapons. The expansion of nuclear energy use means more nuclear facilities and more fissile material in transit, thus providing greater target opportunities for terrorists. Moreover, nuclear power plants can also serve as a source of ‘dirty bombs’ or become ‘dirty bombs’ themselves – which is compounded by the non-uniform enhancement of nuclear facility security worldwide. Existing international efforts to bolster nuclear security represent more of a patchwork of arrangements than a concrete, focused effort to achieve an overarching international agreement. A balance between nuclear energy growth and proliferation resistance can be achieved, such as efforts to create a multilateral approach to the fuel cycle and the fostering of a nuclear security culture.

CSOs and Nuclear Energy in Southeast Asia: Cases of Engagement from Indonesia and the Philippines

Dr Mely Caballero-Anthony
Associate Professor and Head
Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies
S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
Nanyang Technological University

Joint Paper with

Mr Kevin Christopher D.G. Punzalan
Research Analyst
Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies
S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
Nanyang Technological University


Lina Alexandra
Department of International Relations
Centre for Strategic Studies (CSIS), Jakarta

Though nascent to speak of, CSOs have lately experienced exponential growth in Southeast Asia. They are increasingly better organised and strategic in intra- and interstate interactions with other counterpart institutions. In the realm of nuclear energy policymaking, as it could be seen in the case of Indonesia and the Philippines, CSOs strive to provide alternative viewpoints and independent sources of information to the public. Moreover, they serve as credible alternative actors in proposing alternative policy ideas and frameworks. They also facilitate capacity-building for ‘bottom-up’ energy policy planning and endeavour to enhance governance through persuasion and/or advocacy.

A full conference report, video interviews, and slide presentations presented during the conference, can be found here.

  • Seminar on Crafting a Technology Roadmap towards Energy Security and Environmental Sustainability in Singapore: Beginning the Journey

Speaker: Dr Michael Quah Cheng-Guan, Principal Fellow, Energy Studies Institute, 23 February 2010

The technology roadmap illustrates the need for technology. However, technology is a totally insufficient element for addressing the energy security challenges in our carbon-constrained world. While fossil fuels remain a ‘fuel reality’ over the next few decades, the world would gradually have to transition towards a future of alternative energy solutions. Doing so, Dr Quah contended in the seminar, would require an understanding of the ‘systems of systems’ interaction on the use of ‘low energy density’ sources such as solar energy and biofuels. To illustrate this point, he first highlighted the resource and environmental challenges the world faces. He then moved on to the need to strike a balance between economic development, energy security and environmental sustainability. Dr Quah then proposed some recommendations on improving energy security while promoting environmental sustainability, by combining technology with new thinking.

Click here for the seminar write-up.

  • Project on Dealing with Energy Vulnerabilities: Case Studies of Cooperation and Collaboration in East Asia

Much literature on energy security in East Asia has focused on the dynamics of competition over resources and how potential conflicts could arise from this. While this perspective of analysis identifies potential risks and problems, it also precludes the possibility that cooperation is possible between the different states of the region. While the themes of competition and conflict will continue to be relevant in discussions on East Asian states and societies, concentrating solely on them risks overemphasising the vulnerabilities East Asian societies face in meeting their energy needs, precluding the exploration of cooperative solutions in addressing energy security.

Going beyond the themes of competition and conflict, this project endeavours to 1) examine cooperation and collaboration against the backdrop of continuing geopolitical uncertainties and tension as a central focus of inquiry, 2) fill a research and knowledge gap attributed to the general tendency to relate energy security to power politics while undervaluing the extent of interdependence in the chain of energy trade and product trade among nation-states in East Asia and the wider Asia-Pacific, and 3) examine how transnational projects of energy cooperation and collaboration have taken place in East Asia, despite the emphasis on geopolitics in determining policy. It is hoped that findings obtained from this project can stimulate debates about energy policymaking and institutionalisation in the region. The case studies centre on the ten member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as well as China, Japan and South Korea. A key assumption underpinning this project is that shortages in and uncertainties over energy supplies – that is, energy vulnerabilities – constitute a normative part for these case countries under examination. An energy study group inception meeting was held on 4 June 2010, gathering interested energy-related scholars to discuss this issue and thereafter, commissioning research on selected topics. This will be followed by a regional energy workshop in December 2010 and culminate in an edited volume

» Works published under the Programme

  1. Zha Daojiong, ‘Oil Pipeline from Myanmar to China: Competing Perspectives’, Asia Security Initiative Policy Series, Working Paper No. 1, March 2010..
  2. Zha Daojiong, ‘Oil Pipeline from Myanmar to China: Competing Perspectives’, RSIS Commentary 74/2009, 24 July 2009.
  3. Rajesh Basrur, ‘Indian Perspectives on the Global Elimination of Nuclear Weapons’, in Barry M. Blechman and Alexander K. Bollfrass, (eds), National Perspectives on Nuclear Disarmament (Washington, DC: Henry L. Stimson Center, 2010).
  4. Rajesh Basrur, ‘The India-U.S. Nuclear Deal: Security Implications’ in Christopher Len and Alvin Chew, (eds), Energy and Security Cooperation in Asia: Challenges and Prospects (Stockholm: Institute for Security and Development Policy, 2009).
  5. Ryan Clarke, Nur Azha Putra, Mely Caballero-Anthony and Rajesh Basrur, ‘Nuclear Energy in Southeast Asia: Will it Enhance Human Security?’, RSIS Commentary 48/2010, 14 May 2010.
  6. Ryan Clarke, Collin Koh and Kevin Punzalan, ‘Enhancing Energy Security, Underpinning Development: The Future of Nuclear Energy in ASEAN’, NTS Insight, May 2010.
  7. Alvin Chew, ‘US Nuclear Summit: Nuclear Warheads vs Nuclear Energy’, RSIS Commentary 40/2010, 13 April 2010.
  8. Alvin Chew, ‘UAE Nuclear Agreement: A Model for Southeast Asia?’, RSIS Commentary 17/2010, 12 February 2010.
  9. Mely Caballero-Anthony, Kevin Punzalan and Koh Swee Lean Collin, ‘Renewable Energy: A Survey of Policies in East Asia’, NTS Alert Issue 2, March 2010.
  10. Mely Caballero-Anthony, Kevin Punzalan and Koh Swee Lean Collin, ‘Energy Renaissance in East Asia: Nuclear or Renewables?’, NTS Alert Issue 1, March 2010.
  11. Mely Caballero-Anthony and Collin Koh, ‘Nuclear-Public Relations Management in Southeast Asia’, NTS Alert Issue 2, June 2009.

Please click here to access the Centre’s other publications.

» Research Team

The programme is coordinated by the following research staff:

  • Dr Rajesh M. Basrur
    Senior Fellow & Advisor for the Energy and Human Security Programme
    RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies
  • Professor Zha Daojiong
    Senior Fellow & Advisor for the Energy and Human Security Programme
    RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies, and
    Professor of International Political Economy
    School of International Studies
    Peking University
  • Associate Professor Mely Caballero-Anthony
    RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies; and
    Consortium on Non-Traditional Security Studies in Asia (NTS-Asia).
  • Dr Chang Youngho
    Adjunct Senior Fellow
    RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies
  • Dr Guy Hentsch
    Diplomatic Advisor (Retd)
    European Centre for Nuclear Research (CERN)
  • Dr Alvin Chew
    Adjunct Research Fellow
    RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies; and
    Visiting Researcher
    Gulf Research Centre
  • Sofiah Jamil
    Associate Research Fellow
    RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies
  • Lina Gong
    Research Analyst
    RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies


Posted on: 28/4/2010 5:08:00 PM  |  Topic: Energy Security

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