Why does Malaysia need to go Nuclear?

December 21, 2010

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James Lovelock, the futurologist par excellence and the father of Gaia Hypothesis once proclaimed that nuclear energy was the greenest form of energy ever harnessed by man – is that true? Well it has been over 20 years since the Russians set off a nuclear mushroom cloud somewhere over Chernobyl and judging from how the abandoned cats, dogs and bears there are still glowing green in the dark – Lovelock may well be right!

That should give you a rough idea where I stand in the nuclear debate – this should prompt us all to ask: why does Malaysia suddenly feel the need to go nuclear? Oh oh oh, and they are not planning to build only one, but two – is this double happiness? Or double jeopardy? Coming to think of it, what is really driving the nuclear craze in? Is it just the insatiable demand for power or is there a far more insidious motive for going nuclear?

Let’s begin with a lightning analysis? For starters, I find it impossible to believe Malaysia has exhausted all it’s any energy options. For one, unlike Singapore; they don’t have an issue of scarcity of this and that  – and we all know Malaysia is blessed with an abundance of natural gas, petroleum, thermal energy and all year sunshine – besides they’ve already built the Bakun Dam, located in Sarawak on the Balui River, its the tallest concrete dam in the world and the largest dam in Asia outside of China – with a powerhouse with 8 mega dynamos it’s capable of generating about 2.4GW of electricity. Just to give you a rough image of what we are talking about, that’s about what it takes to power a couple of Singapore’s plus or minus a couple of other banana republics. So if they’re really short of energy why not build a couple more Bakuns instead of opting for nuclear?

To me it doesn’t make one molecule of sense for Malaysia to go nuclear before exploring further whether it can better manage its energy resources more efficiently and effectively – if the truth be known, the problems that continues to mire Malaysia’s power woes can at best be summed up in 3 alphabets – TNB.

TNB, the sole electricity distributor in Malaysia has become a caricature that is synonymous with everything that is wrong with Malaysia – gross mismanagement, patchy preventive maintenance, peek a booh blackouts complete with soviet era Aeroflot customer service – the only thing that TNB seems to be able to generate reliably seems to be pengsan headaches along with high blood pressure for the vast majority of Malaysians – don’t say I am making up stories, go and ask any Malaysian lah!

One reason why TNB seems to be stuffed may have something to do with how it has to buy power from fat cat independent power producers under lousy terms (thanks of course to Mahathir who just happens to be the patron saint of corruption on an institutional scale). This nutty arrangement between TNB and IPP, not only condones unscrupulous practices but worst of all produces spikes in electricity prices, leading many Malaysians to cry foul.

I don’t mean to be rude, but the way I see it – there is nothing fundamentally wrong with power supply structure in Malaysia – IMHO, it is not a problem that is linked to supply and demand but rather an abject failure to effectively manage both the opportunity cost and the entire value chain that makes up the business process.

And this should prompt us all to ask the most important question – if Malaysia can’t even manage its power supply with gas and fuel furnaces; how can it be expected to manage high tech space age nuclear power to deliver value to customers and still do it safely? 

I am not saying like George Yeo et al Malaysians are an incompetent lot; but what cannot be denied is the nuclear game isn’t exactly peddling burgers or selling batik shirts; it’s a business that has very little margin for error – and when one superimposes these mission critical demands on the abysmal trek record of TNB et al – what becomes palpably clear is the goals set by Malaysian politicians to go nuclear may well be premature, unrealistic and possibly even suicidal for the rest of the region.

The other point is: why is Malaysia jumping onboard the nuclear bandwagon, when most countries are stepping off? And why isn’t this counter narrative even forwarded by the ruling BN party to the vast majority of Malaysians? The general consensus amongst experts is the amount of energy derived from nuclear power worldwide will continue to slowly decrease during the coming years as governments wean themselves off this corrosive energy source; judging by the fall out rate; this slow down is inexorable; and uranium demand in Europe will fall from 22,000 tonnes in 2010 to roughly only 16,000 tonnes by 2025.

These numbers indicate that the EU already have a master plan to decommission more nuclear reactors than they are building new ones – so why is Malaysia even considering to build two nuclear plants? The reasons for the EU deciding to jetisson nuclear could be due to risk, high cost, lousy return on investment, safety issues etc – but my point is the facts about the viability of nuclear energy as the green fuel of the future that is so often forwarded by the Malaysian government just doesn’t square off . Furthermore, contrary to the idea that nuclear is currently experiencing a new renaissance, what really happening instead is it’s going down sunset boulevard towards oblivion. Indeed, the facts point toward an inexorable slow phasing out of nuclear energy in most of the OECD countries.

The other issue is risk management – since the stakes of going nuclear are so exorbitantly high; Malaysia’s decision to go nuclear should involve a referendum amongst it neighbors – as the Chernobyl disaster and the recurrent haze from forest fires in Sumatra has aptly demonstrated – no one is really an island in a literal sense, especially when what’s dabbled with can so easily take to the skies and be carried by the vagaries of the winds.

Unless Malaysia is able to clear up its mind boggling litany of mismanagement horror stories; such as how did a military grade jet engine disappear from its inventory and end up in Iran? How did a Mongolian tourist get blown up by military grade C-4 explosives? How is it possible that a billion dollar submarine cannot dive underwater? The list of malfeasance goes on and on lah. My point is Malaysia first needs to square off its litany of arthritic woes of mismanagement, questionable practices and abject failure to instill good governance before considering to go nuclear – otherwise all it may end up doing is building a nation called Absurdistan.

“Gentlemen, let me tell you that the Dimitri Class Space Station is in every practical definition of the word, the most versatile platform ever designed and manufactured to meet the uncompromising demands of space; we have built, operated and successfully transferred over 200 Dimitri’s – since its inception, the Dimitri has gone through no less than 19 generational improvements and over 58 upgrades from the Dimitri C-1 to the current Super Class C-19 – the platform of the Dimitri is so versatile; that it can be retrofitted as a supply base, profiled as an interstellar communication and navigation hub to even a hospital vessel. The possibilities are only limited by ones imagination ladies and gentlemen.”

“What about its military capabilities Singaporedaddy? I mean, I don’t mean to be difficult, but you people seem have them all over the place wherever you go.”

“Did I hear you right old boy? Military did you say? Yes, I imagine one could stage fireworks from up here.”

 Arrullian visit on board a Dimitri Class Space Station in geo-orbit in the Sardonyx System – captured by an auto-bot.


“The really funny thing is my young apprentice, virtually anything can trigger off a classical Richardson arms race, I mean anything – did you know that all it took for the crossbow to supersede the long bow was a slight increase of no more than 0.5mm in medieval armor – that’s all it took to tip the scales. The same with jet engines; had the British and Americans not invented fuel injection for their fighter planes; we would all still be flying in propeller driven aircraft – my young apprentice, pay close attention to the God of the small here; look at how one thing comes together to color the rest; how it dies and is reborn again – all it takes it a bit of epiphany mixed with serendipity – you take the case of that blogger that got arrested for using a four letter word and you look at the leaks – then you ask yourself what is the connection? What is the connection?”

“Master, you are completely neutral; nothing moves you – this is the highest state in Kendo.”

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