Malaysia’s nuclear power plants dream far from definite

Rich natural resources have helped Malaysia to delay any such plans to turn to nuclear power

By P PREM KUMAR & MARK RAO / Pic By BLOOMBERG

Malaysia is unlikely to put into motion any concrete plans to build the country’s first two nuclear power plants before 2030.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri said the government is not expected to commit to the 2030 target due to the complexity of the issue and the need for a detailed study before such implementations.

“We also do not want to panic the public. At the same time, the government wants to learn more (about the technology) before embarking on it,” she told The Malaysian Reserve in a recent interview.

Malaysia had initially planned to commission the country’s first and second nuclear plants in 2021 and 2022 respectively, as outlined under the Economic Transformation Programme.

But, the Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011 had forced the local authority to rethink its plans and pushed it to 2030.

Electricity generated from nuclear power plants is said to be cheaper compared to other sources of power generation. Developed nations depend on nuclear power plants to supply cheap and sustainable electricity to power their industries.

Malaysia’s rich natural resources, especially gas, have helped the country to delay any such plans to turn to nuclear power plants for electricity generation. Earlier, proposal to build nuclear power plants has been met with strong public objection.

Nancy said the government intends to communicate the idea of the nuclear energy to more Malaysians and the cumulative opinion will be taken into consideration before any decision is made.

“When we talk about nuclear, it is very sensitive. As soon as they hear that word, they think of bombs and nuclear- related accidents. Thus, we need to be very cautious.

“We need to ensure our communication strategy is in the place first and from there, we can determine how well the public accepts this idea. There is no deadline to this,” she said.

Nancy said Malaysia’s current energy supply is satisfactory, but that will not stop the government from exploring other options.

The government cannot merely shelve the idea of nuclear energy, as Malaysia needs to have options of alternative energy sources to ensure sustainable clean energy supply.

She said Malaysia needs to break the status quo of using a mix of energy sources, which over 90% comes from fossil fuels. “We are not rushing, but we must not close the door to any new energy alternatives because we need to be prepared.

“How would we face a situation if one day, we don’t have enough coal suppliers or the supplier does not want to supply to us?” the minister asked.

She said the government wants Malaysians to be more knowledgeable on the subject matter before deciding on Malaysia’s need for nuclear energy, Nancy said.

“We have set a target of 2030, but that does not mean we will embark on it by then. The idea was to make sure that by 2030, we are at a certain level of preparedness.

“But if we need to stretch beyond 2030, it is okay because for me, the main thing is for Malaysia to be very prepared and then our people to have an understanding,” she said.

Nancy said the Cabinet has also decided to publish the March 2017 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Malaysia’s readiness for nuclear energy.

She said while decision to publicise the report has been taken, the government will take additional grace period before setting a date to reveal the report.

“The Cabinet still wants the report to be published although we have a choice. We have not decided on the date yet, as more communication and awareness have to be created before publishing such technical report,” Nancy said.

She said the IAEA report was positive to the government, having suggested that Malaysia is already prepared for nuclear energy in terms of the knowledge.

The report also acknowledged that Malaysia has completed most of the studies required for Phase 1 and demonstrated a good level of understanding of the 19 nuclear infrastructure issues described in the IAEA milestone.

IAEA also made five recommendations and 10 suggestions to assist the national authorities in making further progress in the infrastructure development.

“The main recommendations in the report are on strengthening government commitment and enhancing public awareness to progress further towards making a knowledgeable decision,” Nancy said.

The international agency also recommended to further develop a legal and regulatory infrastructure, as well as plans for financing the nuclear power plant and establishing owner-operator. Nancy said the government is currently studying count ries with nuclear energy, which includes Japan, China and the Middle East.

“We want to know how Japan is handling the Fukushima nuclear disaster, because what we know now is that they are planning to reopen the nuclear plant and enhance the reactors. At another end, we see Germany where the people are willing to pay more as long as their nuclear plants are closed.”

Malaysia’s nuclear sector is regulated by the Malaysia Nuclear Power Corp which falls under the purview of the Prime Minister’s Department.