IN JANUARY, Vietnam announced its intention to delay the construction of its first nuclear power plant due to safety concerns. This was a good move, not only for Hanoi, but also for South-east Asia in general.
With Vietnam slowing down, the pressure on its neighbours to embark on a regional nuclear energy race at the expense of safety concerns has declined.
The move has bought more time for South-east Asian states to work together, through ASEAN, to strengthen existing regional initiatives on nuclear energy safety and security.
Similar issues will be discussed at a Nuclear Security Summit at The Hague on March 24 and 25.
That said, nuclear energy makes sense for South-east Asia's energy-hungry economies. The energy needs of the ASEAN member states are set to grow sharply in the foreseeable future, according to the South-east Asia Energy Outlook 2013 report.
The energy needs of Vietnam, for instance, will grow at an annual rate of at least 7 per cent through to 2030.
Meanwhile, the energy needs of Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar and the Philippines will each grow 4 per cent to 9 per cent per annum under a business- as-usual scenario over the same time period. In total, Southeast Asia's energy demands are set to increase by 85 per cent between today and 2035.
The growth of energy demand in the region is spurred by a combination of factors, including rising population growth, rural electrification and the growth of the transportation and manufacturing industries. The main energy sources for most South-east Asian countries are fossil fuels such as oil, gas and coal.
Most of these countries believe that it makes economic sense to include nuclear power in their national energy mix in the future.
•First, they believe that nuclear energy is more environmentally friendly compared to fossil fuels.
•Second, despite the massive capital outlays, electricity generated from nuclear power is cheap in the long run and the price inelastic. It is, therefore, resilient to the uncertainties of the global economy.
•Third, there is an abundance of uranium in the world, particularly in Australia and Kazakhstan, which is the main nuclear energy fuel for most reactors.