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Reviewed by:
  • Nuklir Jawa (Nuclear Java) by Sulfikar Amir
  • Jennifer Richter
Sulfikar Amir, Nuklir Jawa (Nuclear Java)
Jakarta: WatchDoc, 2012. DVD, 48 minutes.

The geopolitical context for nuclear technologies has changed drastically since the end of the Cold War. After the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, the United States became the sole superpower in the world, a position that was partially based on nuclear supremacy and control over thousands of nuclear warheads. Nuclear technologies continue to shape and reshape the geopolitical sphere twenty years later, with much of the new nuclear development in the Pacific Rim. While countries like France, Germany, and the United States debate what role nuclear energy should play in national energy mixes, states like India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Indonesia are fervently pursuing the creation or expansion of nuclear energy in their own countries. Nuklir Jawa (Nuclear Java), which delves into the Indonesian context for adopting nuclear power, is an excellent foray into the different ways that a nation-state and its citizens conceptualize how nuclear power will shape society, both positively and negatively. The film opens with a quote from Ulrich Beck: "In an advanced modernity, the social production of wealth is systematically accompanied by the social production of risk." In this documentary, Sulfikar Amir, a professor in the department of sociology at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, attempts to understand how the introduction of a technology like nuclear power can engender both hope for the future of the country and a deep groundswell of public concern. By looking at who bears the risks from nuclear power, and who will benefit, Amir demonstrates the powerful hold that nuclear technologies still have on the global imaginary and how a pervasive belief in nuclear energy capability as a signifier of technological sophistication continues to shape the nuclear goals of specific countries. The concept of risk factors into this energy calculus, as different nations attempt to rationalize expensive nuclear programs, usually under the impression that they will reliably supply safe, efficient, and inexpensive power and therefore help with modernization, national security, and population growth. Nuklir Jawa is an excellent primer into the myriad reasons and justifications behind the push for nuclear energy in small nations, rationales that affect the acceptance, ambivalence, and resistance that characterizes how different [End Page 229] stakeholders react to this technological and social endeavor. Principal among these concerns is the role of the state in fostering and supporting the drive for nuclear energy capabilities, despite ambivalence or reluctance on the part of the public.

Amir's film is notable in that he does not lecture the audience regarding right or wrong positions. The film opens with a scene of Indonesian antinuclear activists staging a public protest against nuclear energy production in the country. We then see a brief interview with a professor of nuclear science, Zaki Su'ud, who states Indonesia's major energy problems in stark terms. For a country awash in oil and hydroelectric opportunities, Indonesia's population distribution is extreme. Over 75 percent of the 275 million residents of the multi-island nation reside on the island of Java, which is not located near any energy resource. Additionally, as Indonesia modernizes, the energy needs of the country are doubling every eight years. Thus the paradox of nuclear energy: for some, it is seen as the only solution for meeting energy needs in a self-sufficient manner for the country, whereas for others it is another way of making Indonesia completely dependent on outside interests, including the need to buy uranium and import nuclear expertise and materials. Waste will also need to be exported, creating another dependency on outside actors whose interest in Indonesia may not be the improvement of the country or political stability. Notably, the production of radioactive waste is not explored, or even mentioned, by the numerous interviewees in the documentary. In the race for creating nuclear energy, Indonesia's government and nuclear agency are following the same pattern as other nuclear states, including the United States, by focusing only on the short-term benefit of more energy rather than the long-term issues, such as an increased dependency on outside sources for fuel and expertise, as well as...


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pp. 229-231
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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Archived 2021
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