1. Madam Speaker, I thank the three members for supporting the Bill.
Need for the Bill
2. A nuclear or radioactive explosion will claim many lives and cause severe damage to property. Nuclear or radioactive contamination will have serious health and environmental consequences. The affected areas would require extensive cleaning up before they are safe to live in again.
3. Singapore's ratification of the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism will allow us to join the international community in the fight against nuclear terrorism; and strengthen our ability to prevent, detect and deter a nuclear terrorist attack.
Timing of the Bill
4. Madam, the risk of a terrorist attack in Singapore involving the use of radioactive material, as I said in my opening speech, is low. However, we cannot rule out the possibility of such a terrorist attack. Over the years, we have been preparing and developing capabilities to deal with such risks.
5. Mr Mahdev Mohan asked what reasons prompted us to seek ratification now. After signing on to the Convention in 2006, we conducted detailed studies of the capabilities required to meet the Convention's requirements. And since then, agencies such as NEA and SCDF have developed the necessary operational capabilities to deal with the illicit use of nuclear and radioactive materials in Singapore. MHA and NEA have also been working together to tighten the security measures at the premises of licensees that are storing higher risk radioactive materials. In 2014, we acceded to the Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM) and accepted its 2005 Amendment, which includes obligations to ensure the physical protection of nuclear materials and facilities.
6. We also have to bear in mind that this Bill is part of a wider framework of counter-terrorism legislation to deal with the terrorism threat. These include, the Radiation Protection Act, which covers offences involving the misuse of radioactive material; the Penal Code; Terrorism (Suppression of Bombings) Act; Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act. The framework of laws provides the levers necessary for us to deal with terrorism. Bearing in mind also the threats that I mentioned earlier, we are now ready to put in place the remaining measures, such as this Bill.
7. Having done all this, we are now ready to table this Bill, and ratify the Convention.
Preventing an Attack
8. Prof Fatimah Lateef asked what measures are in place to prevent a nuclear terrorist attack in Singapore.
9. First, we have a strict regulatory regime in place to make it hard for radioactive material in Singapore to end up in the wrong hands. All local entities that possess or deal in radioactive material are licensed by NEA. These activities are regulated under the Radiation Protection Act and its subsidiary regulations, which take reference from the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) guidelines. NEA has also worked with the security agencies to tighten security measures at radioactive material storage sites. On the import of radioactive material, valid permits are required for all cargo entering our port checkpoints. If necessary, the cargo will be subjected to x-ray screening and radioactivity checks. Any radioactive material detected is verified against the permits, and must comply with the permit conditions.
10. Second, we will be cooperating with the IAEA and other regional State Parties, and Mr Mahdev Mohan asked about this. Singapore is a participating state of the IAEA's Incident and Trafficking Database (ITDB). The ITDB is an international platform for the IAEA and participating states to share information as well as intelligence, to combat illicit nuclear trafficking and strengthen nuclear security. Thus far, we have not detected any breaches involving radioactive material in Singapore.
11. Singapore and other Southeast Asian countries are also strengthening cooperation on nuclear issues through the ASEAN Network of Regulatory Bodies on Atomic Energy (ASEANTOM). ASEANTOM is working closely with the IAEA, to support the establishment of a regional environmental radioactivity database and an emergency preparedness and response framework.
Dealing with an Attack
12. Prof Fatimah Lateef asked what measures we have in place to prepare for and deal with an attack.
13. First, we have established an inter-agency committee to oversee nuclear safety and security in Singapore.
- The committee continually assesses the threat of nuclear terrorism in Singapore;
- Agencies validate existing plans and identify gaps through plan reviews and exercises;
- Inter-agency working groups undertake capability development to address the gaps, and ensure agencies build up the necessary operational capabilities, facilities and measures to deal with these threats.
14. Mr Louis Ng mentioned the threat from other types of materials such as biological and chemical materials. We would like to assure the member that there are also inter-agency committees looking at the biological and chemical threat, with similar structures and processes, to continually review the protective security requirements for facilities that may contain such materials, and our measures to deal with such threats.
15. Second, our agencies have developed capabilities and processes to deal with possible threat scenarios, such as the detonation of a radiological dispersive device.
- Should such an incident occur, MHA will co-ordinate the Whole-of-Government response.
- SCDF will render assistance to casualties and contain the radioactive material.
- SCDF will be assisted by agencies such as the SAF, where necessary.
- NEA will provide technical advice to the response agencies, to help mitigate the harm from the radioactive materials.
- Police will take the lead in investigating these terrorism acts, to find the perpetrators and take them to task. Police will work closely with the other agencies where necessary.
16. Third, beyond the efforts from our agencies, Singaporeans will need to be prepared for an attack which uses radioactive material.
- When hazardous materials such as radioactive substances are released into the environment, the authorities may have to evacuate people from the affected area.
- Members of public may also be directed to initiate In-Place-Protection (IPP) at their homes or workplaces to reduce the risk of inhaling the radioactive particles.
- This may include, for example:
- Closing and sealing off gaps around all doors, windows and openings; and
- Switching off all ventilation and air-con units that draw in air from the outside until such time, the threat has abated.
- SCDF trains members of public on how to conduct IPP as part of its Community Emergency Preparedness Programme (CEPP).
- Participants will be briefed on the IPP procedures and have a hands-on session where they can practise on training simulators.
- IPP procedures are also included in the CD Emergency Handbook which is available for download on SCDF's website.
- Should any member of the public come across any suspected illegal possession or use of radioactive material, or any attempt to make any radiological device, he should inform the Police immediately.
Criminalising Other Activities
17. Mr Louis Ng suggested expanding the offences in the Bill to include other activities.
18. As I said earlier, the objective of the Bill is to ratify the Convention. The acts that are criminalised in the Bill therefore follow those set out in the Convention. For the two acts referred to by Mr Louis Ng, these are covered under other existing legislation. For example, the member mentioned the scenario where a person may seek to gain access to radioactive material not by force, but by unlawfully inducing others through the promise of reward or gratification. Depending on the actual circumstances, this could be an offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act among other offences. Similarly, the possession or manufacture of any radioactive material without a licence, regardless of the intent, is an offence under the Radiation Protection Act. We will continue to monitor the types of terrorist attacks or activities carried out, and consider, in future, if there is a need to further amend the laws.
19. Mr Mahdev Mohan asked why we require the Public Prosecutor's fiat before prosecution of offences under this Bill can take place. This ensures that the offences under the Bill, which are very serious, are brought to the attention of PP before charges are filed. This is consistent for other terrorism related offences, such as those in the Terrorism (Suppression of Bombings) Act.
20. Mr Louis Ng and Mr Mahdev Mohan also had questions on the extraterritorial jurisdiction of offences under this Bill. I spoke about this in my opening speech. The scope of extraterritorial jurisdiction in the Bill is similar to that in other terrorism related laws such as the Terrorism (Suppression of Bombings) Act and others.
21. Madam Speaker, ratifying the Convention is an important step towards strengthening the fight against nuclear terrorism – both locally and internationally. There are no immediate threats, but we take the possibility seriously. It is timely that we put in place the necessary legal framework now, and join the international community to combat terrorism in all forms, including nuclear terrorism.