NUKE POWER OR CALAMITY: Can greedy BN be trusted not to MESS UP?

Posted on July 25, 2012. Filed under: Uncategorized |

-Malaysia Chronicle-

Is the MNPC (Malaysia Nuclear Power Corporation) planning to go nuclear to produce power? The MNPC is said to be preparing a Nuclear Power Infrastructure Development Plan by 2013 to deliver Malaysia’s first nuclear power plant by 2021.

It was reported that a pre-feasibility study on nuclear energy for electricity generation was completed in 2010, while construction of two nuclear power plants has been identified. Apparently, the government is expected to finalise plans to build two units of nuclear power plants with a total capacity of 2 Gigawatts by 2014 in spite of the present 40 percent energy reserves the country has.

Purportedly, the government is tacitly pursuing with the idea when a few possible coastal and inland sites were named. The assigned contracts is said to be worth RM21.3bil that would easily escalate to more than RM60 to RM80 billion before the project could be completed.

Quietly opting for nuclear energy

Is the government discreetly opting for nuclear power plants without any due process? Are the people informed or aware of the pros and cons of this nuclear scheme?

Disengaging the stakeholders – the people – the project may land up like what has happened to the Lynas Advanced Materials Plant (LAMP) – a rare-earth refinery plant located 25 kms from Kuantan, Pahang – now ready to operate despite all the protests against its operation.

Snubbing any consultation with the public, non-governmental organisations and rights groups representing various fields have come together to voice their dissension over the government’s implicit plan to build the nuclear plants.

Many energy experts opine that there is no urgency in embarking on a nuclear energy project when Malaysia enjoys a 40 percent energy reserves. The financial resources made available for the nuclear plant can well be diverted to more research into exploiting many other forms of renewable energy which are environmentally safer.

It appears like the government has not deliberated on the realities of nuclear power economics. How much of taxpayers’ money will be required to make nuclear power economically realistic? Is it wise to invest billions in expensive nuclear energy when investments can be made in alternative renewable energy and energy efficient technologies?

The Lynas debacle has now made citizens more aware of the danger of radioactive wastes. And certainly there are more lasting and terrifying environmental hazards from a nuclear mishap, as what occurred in the Three Mile Island and Chernobyl disasters, and later in March 2011 in Fukushima.

For this reason, a coalition of NGOs (Malaysian Coalition Against Nuclear (MyCAN) are already objecting against the government’s plan to opt for nuclear energy by constructing nuclear power plants in the country.

To comfort and appease public protests

The sitting government may coax the public into thinking that nuclear energy is good for the economy, alright with the environment and the country.

But the people cannot forget the despicable attempt by the government to cover up the 1992 illegal and unacceptable dumping of radioactive thorium near Bukit Merah New Village by Mitsubishi’s Asian Rare Earth company.

Public trust in the government and promoters of nuclear power is actually at its lowest ebb. To shape public perception, in most cases governments and the nuclear industry do not reveal certain vital information on the death-traps, structural plans and operations of these plants.

Sieving and bowdlerising information are common by industrial players. Facts, information and figures are often scripted to comfort and appease public protests. The aggrieved Japanese population, for instance, is well aware of this culture of nuclear cover-ups.

TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) owns and operates the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant in Japan. In 2002, the company’s top management had to resign when the Japanese government discovered that they had covered up the existence of structural damage to reactors. TEPCO admitted that it had been fabricating data about reactor coolant materials.

Fukushima nuclear tragedy

It seems like most governments believe in their own ballyhoo and spin about nuclear energy. Lamentably, the present Malaysian government has not taken the Fukushima nuclear radiation leakage episode as a lesson.

Japan was in a kind of lurch after the man-made nuclear crisis since March 2011. An unprecedented earthquake – 8.9 on the Richter scale – off the north-eastern coast of the Japanese island of Honshu followed by a soaring ten-metre tsunami impaired the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Overheating and explosions caused the plant to release radioactivity into the environment. It will however take scientists months before the real effects of this radioactive on the population could be traced. The radioactive isotopes of greatest concern in a nuclear accident are iodine-131 and caesium-137.

Japan was involved in a nuclear warfare in August 1945 when two atomic bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The instant and long-term catastrophes inflicted by the radiation – the gruesome effects and after effects – have lived on until today.  350 000 people died of this devastation and more than a million people have been permanently mutated.

Human errors

The chances of a nuclear calamity in Malaysia are not unconceivable. Human errors, a terrorist attack or a plane crash will see multitudinous wreckage to human lives and the environment. Natural disasters are not the only causes of a nuclear mishap.  Human errors too can lead to a nuclear disaster. This has happened before in Chernobyl, Sellafield and Three Mile Island.

Nuclear power plants are usually sited in physically secure environments, determined by geologists. But geological or physical knowledge can be unreliable when it comes to locating hazardous radioactive cauldrons such as what had happened to the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Experts thought the location for this plant was planned safe enough – expecting an earthquake no greater than a magnitude of 7.9 and a tsunami no higher than 6.7 metres if at all they were to happen – until it turned out to be a tragedy.

There are a number of unidentified geological faults on the western margins of the Pacific Rim of Fire and close to earthquake-prone Indonesia and the Philippines that experts could not decipher them accurately.  In fact, damaging earthquakes have been known to originate from cagy faults.

Malaysia has often felt tremors of severe earthquakes happening in the western and northern seas of Sumatera and some parts of the country were once devastated by tsunami. Thus the possibility of a destructive earthquake or tsunami happening in the country in the future cannot be ruled out.

Public safety is not government’s concern

Lynas Plant – an Australian reject – was quietly built 25 Kms from Kuantan Town in the east coast of West Malaysia and this project has now irked the people in Kuantan and nearby areas. And now with the push for nuclear power plants Malaysians in general feel that public safety is not the government’s concern.

Is the government preparing to build nuclear power plants surreptitiously without engaging the public first? Where and how does the government plan to scrap the nuclear wastes that will remain radioactive for thousands of years, when the nuclear industry and even advanced countries have not found a solution to it?

Nuclear power plants produce lethal radioactive waste that will remain radioactive for thousands of years. The half-life of plutonium-239 is 24,000 years and that of uranium-235 is 731 million years.

Even Lynas has yet to find a solution where to dump its radioactive wastes. The thousands of gallons of water used for processing the rare earth daily at the plant would most likely be allowed to seep underground or into nearby streams and rivers.

If truth be told, no country in the world has been able to safely dispose of its radioactive or nuclear waste safely. In most cases they stock or hole these wastes deep underground or shed them into the sea.

It seems like the Malaysian government remains adamant to pursue the nuclear energy trail, despite previous calls by concerned groups to scrap its plans. Any proposal to go ahead with nuclear energy in the country deserves a national debate and a referendum. The sitting government cannot make a unilateral decision just based on reports made by companies with vested interests.

“We are disappointed with the government’s plans to develop nuclear energy despite the significant concerns that have been raised against the option,” said a concerned citizen in Kuantan.

“The civil society groups have joined forces to embark on a public campaign to call on the government to abandon its plans for the construction of nuclear power plants,” said an environmentalist attached to an NGO. “The billions of ringgit invested in nuclear energy could be wisely used to tap renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies,” he added.

The government is still blank

Seemingly, most Malaysians disagree with KeTTHA (Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water that nuclear is the best option for cheap, reliable and low carbon power. Scientific studies have shown that having nuclear power option would increase carbon dioxide in the air. A nuclear power plant indirectly radiates between 376,000 and 1,300,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year.

It is profoundly inconsistent if the government’s decision to opt for nuclear energy is to achieve its declared goal of reducing carbon emissions intensity. Nuclear power releases four to five times more carbon dioxide per unit of energy compared to renewable energy.

The existence of nuclear power plants will therefore only increase the number of cancer patients and multitudes of other terminal, incurable and permanent ailments.

In the case of Lynas, the government is still blank as how to resolve the fundamental issue of handling of radioactive wastes and the disposal of the daily use of millions of gallons of wastewater from the plants. How then is the government going to tackle the handling of nuclear wastes and wastewater from the nuclear reactors?

Never be the concerns in any public relations

The health and safety aspects of radioactive-emitting plants have never been the concerns in any government public relations exercise thus far. The danger of radioactive wastes and the claims of the nuclear industry that nuclear power is both safe and vital are wowed with whimsical rhetoric. The masses though are more well-informed of the industry that is going to deliver a dark message about the environment.

Nuclear fallout and radioactive daubing of the sea and land in due course enter the food chain and the human body that will lead to significant health risks. This will adversely affect the immune system, causes infertility and birth defects, and retards physical and mental growth.

Studies have concluded that nuclear power cannot meet energy needs; that it is disproportionately expensive and that it creates environmental and security threats. New evidence has shown that environmentally safe and sustainable and renewable energy technologies can be developed to meet growing energy needs.

As such, plans by the government for nuclear power should be phased out and a serious pledge made to invest in renewable energy. Instead of investing billions in nuclear power, it would be much more cost-effective to commit Malaysia’s limited resources to research and development of renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind, geothermal and water.

The setting of LynasCorp plants in this country – when Australia denied the company a site on its vast desert land – bypassed local public consultations. Malaysia’s decision on nuclear power should thus come after due process and after public consultations.

No matter what, opting for renewable energy is still the best option for a small country like Malaysia. Besides, the cost of nuclear energy is escalating world over while the costs of renewable energy have been declining. Politicians have short-term interests. Nuclear waste is not a legacy they should bequeath future generations.

From Lynas to nuclear plants is just like emerging from one disaster to fall into a worse one.

Malaysia Chronicle


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