Malaysia

East coast states earmarked for nuclear site

By Asrul Hadi Abdullah Sani
May 13, 2010

The Three Mile Island nuclear power plant south of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is pictured in this March 22, 1999 photo. — Reuters picThe Three Mile Island nuclear power plant south of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is pictured in this March 22, 1999 photo. — Reuters pic

KUALA LUMPUR, May 13 — Putrajaya has identified Pahang, Johor and Terengganu as the possible states for a proposed nuclear power plant due to availability of remote locations that are close to water sources, in line with international rules.

However, it is understood the plans remain on paper and have yet to be submitted to the Cabinet, sources said.

Energy, Green Technology and Water Minister Datuk Seri Peter Chin recently announced a proposal to set up a nuclear plant has been approved and that the plant would start operating from 2021, with plans to use it as an alternative energy source by 2025.

“It has to be a remote area with water sources... Pahang, Johor and Terengganu fit the bill,” a source said, noting that Chin did not identify any areas in his announcement last week.

Chin’s disclosure came as a shock to many with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak later asking for public feedback on his www.1malaysia.com.my weblog.

“Nuclear is arguably efficient and cost effective. The question is this: Is it the right one? Before embarking on such an important decision, we must conduct a comprehensive study on it.

“As such the Government is undertaking feasibility studies on nuclear energy use for electricity generation. I am eager to understand better and to know the findings. If we press ahead with nuclear, 12 to 15 years could elapse before energy is produced using small reactors,” Najib wrote in his weblog.

Reactions were mixed in comments to the weblog, with many pointing out other green energy source such as solar power.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) guidelines for nuclear installations reveal that consideration of population density and distribution in the site’s vicinity was important to avoid potential exposure from radioactive releases due to natural origin or human-induced accidents.

It also recommended that the installation must be built near “available flow of water” for the long-term heat removal of the nuclear plant.

A nuclear plant typically needs an efficient cooling system. Most plant designs include the visually familiar cooling towers — which look like giant chimneys — and some use sea-water to cool down the water used in the steam turbine.

An essential part of a plant are its nuclear safety systems which ensure that it’s possible to shut the reactor down, keep it deactivated and prevent release of radioactive material during emergency events.

The handling of spent nuclear fuel is also more critical compared to fresh fuel, as after nuclear fuel rods are spent, they will be stored for about five years in a spent fuel pool on site.

The spent rods will then be stored in another on-site dry storage, before being transported elsewhere for storage or recycling. There are bigger risks when transporting or storing nuclear fuel rods because they will still be radioactive for more than a hundred years.

But rising costs of oil and other fossil fuels have now forced many countries to consider the nuclear option, including Malaysia, which already has a small nuclear reactor for research purposes.

It is the first country in Southeast Asia to announce a nuclear power plant, a sensitive matter in the Asean grouping which has always espoused a nuclear-free zone. Malaysia now relies on a combination of fossil fuels and hydro-power to generate electricity.

Chin stressed that a nuclear plant was sorely needed to meet the country’s accelerating energy needs and ensure its energy security, an issue high on the agenda of most Asian nations now living with high oil prices.

Putrajaya also subscribes to the belief that nuclear power was essential with the depleting oil and gas reserves. It has been reported that the 1,000MW-capacity nuclear plant in this

country would range between US$1 billion and US$3 billion (RM3.2 billion and RM9.6 billion).

Chin said the technology know-how and providers may possibly come from South Korea, China, France or Japan.

While the government has not identified the possible contractors for the plant, it is understood that the government prefers a locally-based company.

The government will also be linking up with the United Nations and the IAEA for verification and certification on the nuclear policy.

The proposed nuclear plant will be managed by national power supplier, Tenaga Nasional Bhd, and remain under Chin’s ministry.

Chin said that the government would be ready to explain to the people the need for such a plant to counter possible political and environmental fallout or uproar.

But the proposed nuclear plant is already facing stiff opposition from Pakatan Rakyat and environmentalists.

Environmentalists and alternative energy producers have criticised the approval for Malaysia’s first nuclear power plant, saying it was rushed through without adequate public consultation given the risks of radioactivity.

Centre for Environment, Technology and Development Malaysia (Cetdem) chairman, Gurmit Singh, also said a nuclear power plant was a risky undertaking and slammed the lack of public consultation.

One solar-power industry player contacted by The Malaysian Insider had stressed that while nuclear power has proven benefits, it could also be dangerous especially given the expertise and maintenance culture in Malaysia.