Safety first in N-power

By Kenny Chee

SAFETY should be the top priority, among other factors, for countries like Singapore that are exploring the nuclear-power option, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said yesterday.

"The most important thing is that the (nuclear) reactors... have to be absolutely safe. One should not try to save money. There should not be any cutting of corners or compromise," said Dr Merkel, who is Germany's equivalent of a prime minister.

Speaking at the Singapore Lecture chaired by Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Dr Merkel pointed to the "dramatic conse- quences" of the Fukushima nuclear plant crisis in Japan.

The event was held at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore, and was organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

Dr Merkel's remarks came after Germany announced this week that it would phase out nuclear energy by 2022, a move prompted by Japan's nuclear crisis.

Nuclear-energy experts have reportedly accused Japan of cutting corners and being negligent in considering tsunami risks to its nuclear reactors.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a news conference with Dr Merkel - who was on a two-day visit to Singapore which ended yesterday - that the possibility of nuclear power "is a significant issue for Singapore" in the long-term.

But he added that no decision has yet been made on nuclear energy for the country. Mr Lee said the Government needs to understand nuclear energy because, even if the country does not use it, neighbouring countries might.

So "we need to understand the implications for us", he said. Mr Lee also discussed nuclear matters with Dr Merkel.

The German Chancellor said yesterday that, as her country moves away from nuclear power, the country aims to rely more on renewable energy by 2020, with wind energy playing a major role.

On the economic front, she said that Germany supported a "speedy conclusion" of free- trade-agreement negotiations between the European Union and Singapore.

She said this would "inject a new dynamism in our relationship and, obviously, Germany would benefit from this quite considerably".

Singapore has learnt a lot from Germany's economy, Mr Tharman said, such as Germany's model for small and medium-sized enterprises, and in innovation and research.

The importance of innovation was emphasised by Dr Merkel, who said that Germany would be able to maintain its "innovative edge" despite international competition.

She added that Germany and Singapore are "ideal partners" in looking into ways to manage resources more efficiently, since both countries are similar in several areas, such as being densely populated.

"(Singapore has) a very diverse society, but you have been able to forge a common purpose...for managing resources efficiently," she said.

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