Malaysia ready to decide on nuclear power

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This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on March 8, 2017.


KUALA LUMPUR: Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri said the Phase 1 final report of the Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review — which concluded that Malaysia is prepared to make a decision on nuclear power — will be tabled before the cabinet next week.

The report, which was issued by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), indicated that Malaysia is thoroughly prepared and has a considerable base of knowledge to make an informed decision on the introduction of nuclear power into its power generation mix.

The IAEA had outlined several recommendations in the report as well, including the strengthening of government commitment to nuclear, enhancing public awareness, further development of the country’s legal and regulatory infrastructure, and plans to finance a nuclear plant.

“We will table it to [the] cabinet maybe next week. We need some time to prepare the paper as we just received the report on Monday.

“Based on the IAEA’s conclusion, Malaysia is quite ready in terms of preparations. We have to do more on the regulatory side, which we are already embarking on. We have about 30 days to respond to the IAEA and we will act based on how the government responds,” said Nancy at a press conference held in conjunction with the Nuclear Power Asia 2017 event yesterday.

Malaysia Nuclear Power Corp chief executive officer Mohd Zamzam Jaafar highlighted that Malaysia needs updates to its nuclear laws, as the current Atomic Energy Licensing Act was introduced in 1984 and has not been updated since.

“We currently have the Atomic Energy Licensing Act, which created the Atomic Energy Licensing Board back in 1984, which is more than 30 years ago. We must update our laws,” he said.

He added that more has to be done in addressing the generally negative perception of Malaysians towards nuclear energy, especially after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan due to the Tohoku earthquake in 2011.

The disaster had also resulted in Malaysia postponing its nuclear plans to beyond 2030, from its initial plan to commission its first and second plants in 2021 and 2022 respectively, as outlined under the Economic Transformation Programme.

“When people talk about nuclear, the first thing that comes to mind are nuclear bombs and nuclear disasters like in Fukushima, Chernobyl and so on. This has created fear in the public.

“In other countries, they begin nuclear education from a young age. We have to take that kind of perspective; we have to educate our people,” he said.

Mohd Zamzam said the introduction of nuclear power here is also in line with the push towards low-carbon energy systems and efforts to decarbonise the energy sector.

Despite the fact that Malaysia generates some energy through renewable sources through hydroelectricity and solar power, he said more than 90% of power generated in the country comes from fossil fuels.

“More than 90% of our power comes from coal and gas, but the public perception is that it comes from solar or hydropower. The cost to harness electricity through these methods is not cheap, so we have opted for coal power.

“However, the world is moving towards low-carbon energy systems and nuclear power offers a solution,” he said.

Besides looking at nuclear technology solely for power generation, Malaysian Nuclear Agency deputy director-general Dahlan Mohd said other uses of nuclear are also being researched at the agency’s facility in Bangi, which maintains a 1mw nuclear reactor.

Currently, the facility is used for nuclear-based activities such as the sterilisation of medical products and research on increasing crop yield, but its biggest project currently is the recovery of thorium, uranium and rare earths from the by-products of tin mining known as tin tailings or amang, taking advantage of the local tin mining industry.

“If we succeed in demonstrating the ability to extract thorium, uranium and rare earths, we can proceed to the next phase of the project. We hope to see the first extraction facility coming online in 2018,” he said.