Singapore Government Wanted To Build A Nuclear Energy Plant On Pedra Branca

When we think about nuclear weapons or nuclear energy, we tend to think of superpowers like America and Russia.

But did you know that our Little Red Dot has had many brushes with both nuclear energy and bombs?

From nukes in Tengah to a nuclear reactor on Pedra Branca, we explore Singapore’s fascinating nuclear story after the jump.

1. Singapore once housed 48 nuclear bombs 

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At the height of the Cold War in the early 1960s, Britain secretly deployed 48 of its “Red Beard” nuclear bombs to Singapore. The Red Beard was Britain’s first tactical nuclear weapon and boasted yields similar to the bombs used in Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

The UK’s Royal Air Force held these bombs at RAF Tengah, in case communist China initiated a war. 

But Tunku Abdul Rahman, then prime minister of Malaysia — which Singapore was a part of — was not informed of the 48 nukes inside his country. 

In fact, Britain’s then-high commissioner said the presence of even dummy weapons in the region would be “politically sensitive”.

2. A nuclear reactor at Pedra Branca?

At the 2008 Singapore Energy Conference, founding PM Lee Kuan Yew revealed that the government had once thought about building a nuclear power plant on Pedra Branca. Yes, that island that Malaysia keeps squabbling with us over.

Considering that international standards require a 30km wide safety radius around a nuclear plant, it would be impossible to build a nuclear plant on mainland Singapore.

However, Pedra Branca is about 45km east of mainland Singapore, fulfilling this requirement.  

However, MM Lee noted the constraints of this plan. If Singapore builds the plant on Pedra Branca, it would be “less than 30km away from the Malaysian coast,” making Malaysians “worried”.

3. Some think that Singapore needs nuclear energy

We’re self-reliant for water, so why not energy? Proponents of nuclear energy point to Singapore’s strategic vulnerability in energy. About 80% of Singapore’s energy comes from Indonesia and Malaysia in the form of natural gas.

Sour ties between our neighbours and us might thus affect our energy supply. Hence some say that there is a need for Singapore to diversify its energy sources – and nuclear energy might be just what we need.

 Floating Russian Nuclear Power Plant
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One proposal for Singapore is a floating nuclear power plant (NPP). These come in the form of mobile ship-like structures or offshore rigs. While floating NPPs are already being built in Russia and China, they are still very much in their infancy.

Issues regarding their effectiveness and safety still need to be solved.

4. DPM Teo says no to nuclear power, for now

Earlier this year, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean noted the constraints of nuclear energy. According to him, the current generation of nuclear power plants are not suitable for Singapore. He added that things might change in generations to come.

This echoed a Ministry of Trade and Industry pre-feasibility study that concluded that the risks outweigh the benefits when it came to nuclear power. It also stated that Singapore would prefer to “wait for technology and safety to improve further before reconsidering” its stance.

5. Singapore is beefing up its nuclear security

Even if Singapore currently doesn’t have NPPs or nuclear weapons at its disposal, it has taken steps to beef up its nuclear security. After all, any nuclear incident–be it accidental or deliberate–in a densely populated city can be devastating.

A Protective Analytical and Assessment Facility (PAAF) was set-up by the government in 2016 to conduct radiation-nuclear detection and analysis.

In 2018, Singapore announced that it was setting up a network of radiation sensors to monitor radiation levels.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has also stressed the importance of nuclear security on the global stage. He has attended multiple Nuclear Security Summits and has repeated stressed the importance of international cooperation.

Meanwhile in Malaysia…

Missing Radioactive Device In Malaysia Was A Mere 3-Hour Drive From Singapore

Featured image from avrovulcan.org.uk.