SINGAPORE – Nuclear power will be discussed by energy ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their counterparts outside the region at an annual meeting scheduled for September in Brunei, according to Brunei’s energy minister, Yasmin Umar.
“This is very significant because for the first time 18 energy ministers will be sitting down together and we will also at the same time have a ministers business forum (involving) the ministers and industries,” Yasmin said in a recent interview. “One of the issues . . . is nuclear energy.”
The ASEAN Energy Ministers’ Meeting and related discussions will be held in the oil-rich kingdom from Sept. 18 to 21.
There will also be a meeting of the ASEAN ministers with their counterparts from Japan, China and South Korea.
Another meeting will feature energy ministers from the East Asia Summit countries, which now has 18 members with the recent admission of the United States and Russia.
The EAS previously included 16 countries, namely the 10 ASEAN members, plus Japan, China, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand and India.
It will be the first time that so many energy ministers from the region will be discussing nuclear power as the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear crisis rages on.
The talks also come at a time when several countries in the region, including Indonesia and Malaysia, are expressing interest in setting up nuclear power plants.
Yasmin said that Brunei LNG and Japan’s largest electric utility, Tokyo Electric Power Co., are expected to strike a deal within the next two to three months in their negotiations to extend a contract for long-term sales and purchases of liquefied natural gas that is currently scheduled to expire in 2013.
Brunei LNG is 50 percent owned by the Brunei government, 25 percent by Mitsubishi Corp. and 25 percent by Shell Corp.
He said Brunei is always ready to help Japan by increasing the supply of liquified natural gas.
He said that after the earthquake and tsunami struck northeast Japan in March, a cargo of LNG that was on its way to South Korea was diverted to Japan soon after the catastrophe with South Korea’s understanding and approval.
“The ship was on the way already, the tanker had already been deployed, it had been halfway to Korea when we made the decision to divert the tanker to Japan,” he said.
“I personally called the Japanese buyer and said to the Japanese buyer, ‘Look, whatever it is, we will help you.’ It’s the Bruneian nature to help friends in difficulties,” Yasmin said.
More than 90 percent of Brunei’s LNG is sold to Japan, primarily to three power utilities: Tokyo Gas, Tepco and Osaka Gas, while the rest is sold to South Korea.
He said exploration activities are now going on that are expected to open more oil and gas resources at a time when there is a rising need for LNG because of strong demand from China.
But at the same time, Yasmin said Brunei is planning to develop downstream activities in his country.
“We want to triple or quadruple these activities and also we want to do it in a very short time over the next two to three years.
“There will be something coming out downstream very soon,” he said, adding this could be announced within three or six months.
ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.