Press Statement by Charles Santiago in Klang on Friday, 14th May 2010:
Opt for safer energy options as there are problems with siting nuclear plant
I have read with concern reports that the Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water has identified Pahang, Terengganu, and Johor as potential sites for a nuclear power plant. These states have been identified as possessing water resources and remote locations.
Under international standards nuclear power plants need to be located at least 20 km away from major human settlements. They also require large amounts of water for both cooling and electricity production.
This is because a nuclear reactor generates electricity via a steam turbine. It is essentially a very expensive machine for boiling water.
However, nuclear power plants have several water-related vulnerabilities. Water used for cooling reactors is usually heated up to 51?C before being air-cooled in towers to 35?C and then recycled back.
If outside air temperatures rise above 35?C then the reactor has to run at sub-peak efficiency because the coolant is too warm. If reactor temperatures rise above 51?C then an emergency shutdown is usually called for.
It is possible for temperatures in Malaysia to rise to as high as 40?C. Our average daytime temperature of 33?C is already very close to the minimum coolant temperature.
I wonder if this is why there are no nuclear plants on the Equator or in very hot regions.
Even in France many reactors have had to be shut down because of heat waves since 2003. Global warming is expected to raise average temperatures around the world, Malaysia included.
The Federal Government once again seems to have not fully considered the environmental impacts and vulnerabilities of nuclear power.
If the waste coolant water is too hot then it cannot be returned to waterways or the sea without causing damage to organisms.
The states of Pahang, Terengganu and Johor all contain sites of great biodiversity. Our national treasures of Taman Negara and Endau Rompin lie there.
The coral reefs in Terengganu are very sensitive to temperature changes and an increase in sea temperature can kill off the coral which is an important asset for tourism, fish-stocks and preventing coastal erosion.
A nuclear site also needs to be geologically stable. Any significant seismic activity can weaken the structural integrity of a plant and raise the possibility of reactor damage.
Peninsular Malaysia has been experiencing greater seismic activity in recent years and we are not as stable as we once thought.
On May 9, Malaysians living in the Peninsula experienced the aftershocks from the quake off the east coast of Sumatra, just 650 km from Kuala Lumpur.
Even if a potential nuclear plant is to be located on the East Coast, can the government guarantee that it will be safe from seismic damage?
Malaysia should instead be investing in safe and clean energy options for our future.
We should be embracing the renewable energies of solar, wind, and micro-hydro as well as promoting aggressive energy efficiency targets. None of these energy sources have the problems of pollution and public health that nuclear power and fossil fuels present.
Under the 9th Malaysia Plan renewable energies were supposed to be the ¡®fifth fuel¡¯ after oil, coal, gas, and hydro.
Now nuclear power appears to have displaced them. Why has a more safe and sensible energy policy been abandoned in favour of a risky and harmful one when Malaysia is amongst the leading producers of solar cells in the world?
The government owes the people an honest and comprehensive answer.
* Charles Santiago, DAP MP for Klang