This IISS Strategic Dossier provides a comprehensive overview of the history of nuclear programmes in the region, an evaluation of national nuclear capabilities and policies, and an analysis of future aspirations in each of the members of ASEAN plus Australia and New Zealand.

Southeast Asia is on the cusp of joining the nuclear renaissance. Three countries in this region have announced plans for nuclear power, two others are deciding on the option and two more recently expressed an interest in this form of energy for the first time. Meanwhile, Myanmar plans to build a small research reactor and is the focus of rumours about clandestine nuclear cooperation with North Korea. Myanmar’s unclear intentions give rise to proliferation worries, while elsewhere in the region the major concerns about the introduction of nuclear power pertain to safety and environmental considerations and whether facilities and materials will be secure. The IISS Strategic Dossier on Preventing Nuclear Dangers in Southeast Asia and Australasia provides a comprehensive overview of the history of nuclear programmes in the region, an evaluation of national nuclear capabilities and policies, and an analysis of future aspirations in each of the members of ASEAN plus Australia and New Zealand. In addition to analysing the safety and security risks of nuclear energy and the vulnerabilities of strategic trade control systems, the dossier assesses policy options that can help allow the atom to be harnessed for peaceful uses in a manner that is safe, secure and non-threatening.

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  • Introduction

    To the extent that the much-vaunted nuclear renaissance is real, it is taking place in Asia. Dozens of new nuclear power plants are under construction or in the planning stages in both Northeast Asia (China, Japan and South Korea) and South Asia (India and Pakistan).1 In the large area in between, south of China and east of India, nuclear energy has played no role to date. However, that is likely...
  • Chapter One: Regional Cooperation

    Effective national policies and adherence to global regimes, as well as effective strategic-trade controls, will be central to ensuring the safety and security of Southeast Asian states’ emerging civilian nuclear-energy programmes in the coming years and decades. But coordination and cooperation at the regional level are also vital aspects of an effective safety, security and non-proliferation infrastructure. An encouraging feature of the contemporary nuclear scene in Southeast Asia is the...
  • Chapter Two: The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Regime

    Over the past half century, countries have banded together in various ways to try to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. The system that has evolved from these efforts is generally referred to as the global non-proliferation regime. The cornerstone is the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which came into force in March 1970. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), as it is commonly called, imposed various obligations on...
  • Chapter Three: Nuclear Safety and Security

    The production of nuclear energy in Southeast Asia would introduce nuclear facilities and materials with potential risks to the nations involved, as well as to their neighbours, if not managed safely and securely. The purpose of this chapter is to elaborate these safety and security risks, as well as the steps that can be taken to manage them. At the outset, it should be recognised that the risks inherent in...
  • Chapter Four: Brunei, Cambodia and Laos

    Brunei, Cambodia and Laos have no nuclear facilities of any kind and no known plans for nuclear power, apart from ambitious aspirations by Cambodia that would take many years of preparation before they could be implemented. These three smallest ASEAN countries are not members of the IAEA, but they do have comprehensive safeguards agreements in place and are signatories to the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty. They present no known...
  • Chapter Five: Indonesia

    With three nuclear research reactors, a range of other nuclear-science facilities and a cadre of trained scientists and engineers, Indonesia has more nuclear-science expertise than any other member of ASEAN. Until very recently, it was expected to be the first country in Southeast Asia to generate electricity from nuclear power, with plans to have one nuclear power plant operating in Java by 2016–17, and three more there by 2025. However...
  • Chapter Six: Malaysia

    As a founding member of ASEAN, a signatory to the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free-Zone Treaty and a vocal member of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in IAEA councils, Malaysia has been an active advocate of non-proliferation and disarmament. The country’s increasing interest in nuclear energy, which is still at a formative stage, gives no grounds for concern about nuclear-weapons aspirations. Yet Malaysia’s record on nuclear matters is clouded by revelations that in...
  • Chapter Seven: Myanmar

    Of all the countries in Southeast Asia, Myanmar1 is the most enigmatic. Reliable information about the country is scarce, particularly when it relates to national security, a subject with a very broad definition in Myanmar. Its military regime (known since 1997 as the State Peace and Development Council, or SPDC) is opaque, and its policies and decision-making processes are often hard to understand. The consequent information gaps are filled with...
  • Chapter Eight: Philippines

    In 1976, during the reign of President Ferdinand Marcos, construction work on the first Philippine nuclear power plant began in Bataan province. But after Marcos was driven from power in 1986, and in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster, the plant closed down for safety reasons before it became operational. Subsequent governments have chosen to avoid the expense, as well as the physical and political risk, associated with starting up...
  • Chapter Nine: Singapore

    Singapore is a staunch supporter of nuclear non-proliferation efforts and has taken the lead in promoting regional safety and regulation in relation to nuclear power generation. Geographically compact and with no significant reservoir of nuclear expertise, it is the only advanced state in Southeast Asia not to have formally considered the introduction of nuclear energy. In the context of growing regional interest in nuclear power, however, the government has not...
  • Chapter Ten: Thailand

    In May 2010 Thailand plans to decide once and for all whether it will embark on a nuclear-energy programme, after several aborted attempts dating back to the 1960s. The intention, which is outlined in the June 2007 Power Development Plan (PDP), is to bring 2,000MWe of nuclear power online by 2020 and another 2,000MWe by 2021. Thai officials hope this will simultaneously help their country meet its growing energy needs...
  • Chapter Eleven: Vietnam

    With ambitious plans to introduce nuclear energy to help meet its growing need for electricity, Vietnam is likely to be the first nation in the region to operate a nuclear power plant. Current plans call for two nuclear reactors to be online by 2020, and more to follow soon thereafter. Financial and staffing limitations may delay these plans, but Vietnam’s one-party political system and constraints on popular dissent provide less...
  • Chapter Twelve: Australia

    Australia’s status as a country with no nuclear power reactors (and just one research reactor), no nuclear weapons and a reputation for disarmament diplomacy is in contrast to its long involvement in the nuclear field. Australia is a key player in the uranium business; the country possesses about 34% of known low-cost global reserves and currently meets about 13% of the world’s annual uranium requirements. It is consistently one of...
  • Chapter Thirteen: New Zealand

    New Zealand has never actively pursued a civilian nuclear-energy programme. From the mid 1940s to the 1970s, the reasons for this were primarily economic. Later, opposition to both nuclear weapons and nuclear power on environmental, safety and political grounds became a defining feature of New Zealand domestic and foreign policy. A legislated ‘nuclear-free zone’ since 1987, New Zealand is also a leading proponent of global nuclear disarmament and is proactive...
  • Chapter Fourteen: Policy Options

    As the nuclear renaissance comes to Southeast Asia, the countries of the region face an important turning point. Decisions taken today will help determine whether nuclear energy will play a purely positive role in their economic development or whether a shadow of nuclear danger will accompany the positive benefits of this energy source. Some problems have already appeared and others are on the horizon. There are persistent worries about nuclear...
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Strategic Dossiers

Preventing Nuclear Dangers in Southeast Asia and Australasia

A history of nuclear programmes in the region, an evaluation of national nuclear capabilities and policies, and an analysis of future aspirations in each of the members of ASEAN plus Australia and New Zealand.

Strategic Dossier Press

Preventing Nuclear Dangers in Southeast Asia and Australasia

A press statement for the launch of this Strategic Dossier is available here.

Strategic Dossiers

Harnessing the Institute's technical expertise to present detailed information on the key strategic issues.