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Press Statement by Charles Santiago in Klang on Wednesday, 5th May 2010:

Nuclear decision hasty - needs review, public consultation and engaging critics

The decision of the Federal Government to approve a nuclear power plant in Malaysia is both premature and unbalanced, and has been made in the absence of public debate and consultation.

According to the announcement by Minister for Energy, Green Technology and Water, Peter Chin the Economic Council has approved nuclear power on the basis that:

  1. Malaysia is overly reliant on coal and gas;

  2. nuclear power, while initially astronomically expensive, is supposed to be more cost- and energy-efficient once operational;

  3. nuclear power is supposedly “renewable”; therefore, is “the only viable option toward our long term energy needs”.

The track-record of the nuclear industry is extremely spotty on matters of safety, efficiency, cost, and environmental impact.

Last year the top official in charge of British nuclear safety admitted to a 5 year cover-up by regulators of a nuclear power plant, 50 miles from the centre of London, which had been leaking radioactive waste for 14 years.

The Malaysian government still has a strong policy of official secrecy and there are reasonable grounds to fear the results of the combination of secrecy and a poor safety culture.

Newer generation plants in Britain often fluctuate between 40% and 70% efficiency. The Minister projects that construction may take 10 years, but it can often take longer and cost much more than projected.

The next generation plants being constructed in Finland have run four years behind schedule and 50% over budget because of flaws in “safety significant features”.

Aware of the intimidating start-up costs, government officials have been trying to draw attention to low operational costs, but nuclear plants incur massive expenses for safe decommissioning and the disposal of waste. Financing for decommissioning is often poor or absent even in the United States.

A new generation nuclear plant may be able to operate for 50 years, but the waste it produces has a radioactive half life of hundreds of thousands of years.

When questioned on the subject late last year, the Tenaga Nasional Berhad CEO stated that TNB was ready to operate a nuclear power plant despite having no waste management plan.

It is fundamentally irresponsible to go ahead with nuclear power without a thorough assessment and discussion on the impacts of nuclear waste. The public needs to know where and how this will be disposed of.

The Asian Rare Earth case in Perak established the federal government’s dismal track record in dumping radioactive waste on poor communities.

The Minister also stated that he had the go-ahead to identify potential sites for the plant, but added it had to be built in an area with high power demand. This implies it would be sited near to a densely populated area.

Malaysian citizens have a right to know of the risks inherent in nuclear power, but the federal government has made all its decisions at the Cabinet level without consultation and debate with the public.

AFP quotes the Minister as saying that the government was not keen in debating with critics. This is unbecoming of a Minister whose government promotes the notion of People First, Performance Now.

The minister is also mistaken in believing that nuclear power is “renewable”. Real renewable energy comes from the sun, wind, water, and plants.

Nuclear fuel, like coal and gas, is dug out of the ground – under very polluting conditions – and needs to be securely disposed of when spent. This is not renewable energy by any sensible definition. Like coal and gas we will also have to import uranium from overseas.

Nuclear therefore does not appear to present any great advantage in terms of energy security.

Malaysia already has several factories manufacturing world-class solar panels. We should be looking into fully utilising such capacity within Malaysia.

We should also engage in a fundamental shift from supply-side energy management, i.e. building more and more power plants, to demand-side management such as cutting down on inefficient use. This can save both money and precious fuel resources.

I believe that the federal government’s lop-sided approach to nuclear power is a result of avoiding pubic debate and consultation on the subject. This issue needs to be debated in Parliament and before the public.

Therefore, I call on the Minister to have an open and forthright debate with me on this urgent matter of national interest.

* Charles Santiago, DAP MP for Klang



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