Sunday, March 13, 2011

Do you still want nuclear plants in Malaysia, Najib?

A nuclear melt down. Photo source here

13 March 2011 09:24
Written by Mariam Mokhtar,
Malaysia Chronicle

Photos of Japan’s nuclear power plants glowing orange, with fires raging and white plumes of smoke rising above the remains of each complex, should produce some soul-searching in Prime minister Najib Abdul Razak. But probably not!

Last May, Najib’s cabinet approved the construction of the country’s first nuclear power plant; two nuclear power stations are to be ready by 2022. Malaysia is now reliant on fossil fuels for its electricity supply; gas accounts for 64 percent of the total energy generation; the rest comes from coal.

Despite protests from environmental activists who accuse the government of not thoroughly considering other forms of energy generation such as solar, hydroelectric and wind power, Najib is set on two 1,000 megawatt nuclear power plants, to counter an “imbalance” in its energy supplies.

The Energy Minister, Peter Chin dismissed suggestions for renewable forms of energy: “Yes, very good, everyone wants to say that we want renewables, but what about cost? Can we force the people to accept high tariffs?”

Perhaps Najib and his cabinet might want to reflect on events in Japan. He should scrap his nuclear ambitions and consider the human cost as well as cost to the environment.

March 11 2011 was when the world got an apocalyptic reminder of the devastating power of a tsunami when the massive undersea earthquake generated a destructive wave in the Pacific Ocean.

The Japanese and the rest of the world, witnessed the horrors of the earthquake which left thousand dead, and thousands more missing.

On March 12th the Japanese faced another danger: a nuclear accident.

Two nuclear plants near the coast reported emergency situations following the failure of systems to cool five nuclear reactors that had overheated. There was no electric power to circulate cooling water over superheated uranium fuel rods.

Then came the alarming announcements from the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) that it had lost the ability to control pressure at several reactors and that it was having trouble with a valve that would allow reactor pressure to be eased.

As a precautionary measure, thousands of residents were evacuated from the immediate area of the Fukushima plants, about 150 miles north of Tokyo.

Najib will definitely use the argument that Malaysia is not on the “Pacific Ring of Fire” and that we do not have earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. He will also say that local experts and foreign expertise will be on hand to man and manage our nuclear plants.

The Japanese work culture is very different from ours. Malaysians are “tidak apa” types, unlike the Japanese who are more dedicated, better team players and who display absolute loyalty to their companies.

Even with the best will in the world and even with the best technology, things have gone wrong for the Japanese. Apart from the power and valve problems, what other things have the authorities hidden from us, so as to avoid panic or embarrassment?

Malaysia’s greatest problem is not its geographical location. That is the least of our problems. Ours is the integrity of the people.

Our work culture is a culture of “anything goes”, where cover-ups are common, and where the “you scratch mine, I scratch yours” mentality prevails. These are more dangerous than being in an earthquake or volcanic activity region.

If we needed convincing of the integrity of our professionals see how recent court cases have exposed our chemists, investigating officers and forensic pathologists. They have broken many of the rules which their jobs and occupations demand of them. But then, they only take their cue from the top - our leaders lend themselves to abuses of power and pretend that serious crimes, like murder and rape never happened.

Najib is keen on nuclear power. What if our so-called professionals behave just like the “experts” we have seen in court? Their slip-shod methods and their sloppy attitude towards work will endanger lives and the environment.

Being good at cover-ups is almost a national disease. Billion dollar projects have failed and yet no one is made accountable. Even when lives have been lost, like Kugan, Aminulrasyid or Teoh Beng Hock, no one was found responsible.

Oftentimes, the scapegoat is someone insignificant at the bottom of the chain of command. These scapegoats are incarcerated for a few weeks or months, and enjoy a career revival after their releases.

Najib is also aware that in our country, people can be paid to “approve” things even when the conditions are not right. These include judges and heads of departments who issue the relevant permits.

There are very few people left with any integrity and self-respect, in our professions. So it is very difficult for the public to respect them.

Japan’s superior infrastructure and sophisticated technology are second to none. Even that did not prevent problems in the nuclear power plants.

In Malaysia, our problems with construction, equipment and maintenance are manifold. Our experience shows that we will have paid for a sophisticated system but what we get is the inferior product. There will be short-cuts taken in construction. There will be questionable business practices. After the various “commissions” are paid, only a pitiful amount remains.

Corruption in Malaysia has devastating effects, comparable to earthquakes elsewhere.

Will Najib realise that a nuclear power plant is a different behemoth altogether?

Environmental groups have said that the threat of a radiation leak underscored the general risks from atomic energy.

“We’ve opposed nuclear power for decades, and this is another proof that it can’t be safe,” said Sven Teske, director of renewable energy at Greenpeace International.

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