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Nuclear power in Malaysia - a 'yes' or a 'no'?

LETTER | I refer to the letter Ministry should reconsider disbandment of MNPC.

I write in response to the reignition of the issue of how nuclear power is superior to conventional power plants which depend on burning of fossil fuels, especially, again, in our current climate of rising oil prices.

In the above letter, it was revealed how there were plans in 2010 to build two 1,000 megawatt electric nuclear power reactors with a target for the first unit to be in operation by 2021. It was rightfully highlighted that four conditions that must be met first before this plan can even go ahead namely public acceptance of the project, ratification by Malaysia of relevant international treaties, having correct regulatory framework put into place and approvals for the sites including from the local population.

Now, aren't we all now heaving a sigh of relief that things changed in May 2018? Dr Mahathir Mohamad spoke in a speech to the Conference of the Electric Supply Industry (Cepsi) in September last year. He said, "This was not the policy during my time as the fourth Prime Minister but it was not (like that for) the fifth and sixth prime ministers. But now I am back," he said. Mahathir emphasised that the main contention has always been the handling of radioactive waste.

Coming back to building of a new nuclear reactor, scientists who are proponents of nuclear energy may sing praises of how the few kilograms of uranium-235 generates a huge amount of energy which a Form 5 Physics student is familiar using the "E= mc2" formula and using the Avogadro's Constant to connect with the actual number of particles involved in a nuclear reaction.

Yet, trends worldwide portray the opposite. A post on the website of the Union of Concerned Scientists started with, "Nuclear power is an increasingly expensive source of energy" and goes on with a caption of "Cheap dreams, expensive realities". The post cites a Forbes article in 1985 that labelled the US nuclear power as "the largest managerial disaster in business history". It has failed to attract private-sector financing in the US and there have been at least two public or government bailouts. Now we ask ourselves the question, do we want such a scenario in Malaysia 20 or 50 years down the road?

Let us also not forget the possibility of a nuclear accident. We have two living proofs already, Chernobyl in April 1986 and Fukushima in March 2011. One was due to human error compounding a technical flaw while the other was from a natural disaster. As I have always taught my students (radioactivity is the last topic for the SPM Physics Form 5 syllabus), it only takes one accident to have serious and severe ramifications and consequences on not only humans and flora and fauna but also on the ecosystem as a whole.

Then there is also the inevitable thermal pollution. You see, all nuclear reactors need to be cooled. Hence they are built near a large body of water, be it a river or a sea. It begs the question of where in Malaysia are you going to find a river big enough to provide such water? Then there is also the inevitable negative effect on the aquatic ecosystem of that river concerned. Surely the residents will object and that would already infringe one of the four conditions put forth by the letter I mentioned above.

It is very clear now that a mature country will take the stance of not having nuclear power. This was precisely the move taken by Germany in response to the Fukushima tragedy. Germany is gradually phasing out its current 16 nuclear reactors with a completion target by 2022. Surely Malaysia must not take this step back in our attitude towards nuclear power.

As our Minister of Energy, Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change (Mestecc) Yeo Bee Yin said in July 2018, "Nuclear is obsolete [...] there many other renewable energy solutions, We have biomass, biogas and solar energy."

Let us in Malaysia, move forward. Let us discard the old thinking and ways and embrace instead the innovative ideas to help us manage not only our future but the future of our coming generations.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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