This survey is sent to emails of professional workers in various fields around Malaysia; with age ranging from 23 – 60 years to ensure different opinions from different perspectives are obtained and accuracy in evaluation of the results. Another analysis will be conducted if there is significant progress in terms of the numbers of survey submitted by the public.
Clearly, it appears that those who have nuclear-related background responded yes to the development of nuclear energy in Malaysia. Those who obtained information from internet and television documentaries are having different thoughts of nuclear issues. Those who said no could be because of obtaining information from anti-nuclear activists, who continuously chanting the nightmares nuclear plant would bring to us without proven, justified facts and reality of energy generation. These are the reasons why people are being negative to nuclear energy.
All the respondents who support nuclear energy agreed that nuclear is green because they understand the scientific fact of reprocessing nuclear spent fuel is possible; it is just more economical to mine for new uranium ores at the moment. The terms green is awarded despite mining is not a green activity understanding that there is no energy generation that is totally green, not even solar, wind, or hydro. Mining of uranium is very much different form coal mining, where it is not as destructive as the public had imagined. They believe that the amount of high-level nuclear waste is too little when compared to the capacity of electricity generated; especially when compared to many other mainstreams electricity sources. Those who disagreed still believed we could rely on solar, wind and hydro power; which is incapable of supplying the base-load energy consumption as of now. They are in fear of the radioactive waste issues of waste and the dangers it would bring to the environment.
Most of the respondents stated that the main reason to support nuclear energy is its viability and sustainability; where continuous energy supply from nuclear power plant is ensured and nuclear fuel is available for thousands of years through reprocessing, tapping into sea water uranium extraction and converting other fertile sources into fissile uranium. Other strong reasons are to keep electric tariff low as proven by France and reducing CO2 emission. Those who oppose nuclear power plant seems to think that investing in nuclear energy is only for self-profiting, gaining to the advanced country status and most of all, opening a lot of business and professional jobs to certain people. These opinions are formed due to their political stands and improper education on nuclear related issues. This is showed by the fact that the respondents are unaware of radiation that is actually allowed to be released from a nuclear power plant annually is much lesser than radiation of ash released coal-fired power plant. (Living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant and coal power plant; we are exposed to 0.09µSievert and 0.3µSievert of radiation, respectively.)
Regardless of their opinions on nuclear energy, the main concerns remain the same. The highest concern is the management of nuclear power plant. This is a very worthy opinion. A single mistake could be a grave one; not necessarily the loss of lives, but the unimaginable psychological effects it could have to the public which will surely halt the development of nuclear industry; either continuing operations of the nuclear power plant or constructing new plant. The respondents addressed the ecological impacts to the environment and the destruction of the ecosystem caused by nuclear power plant. Environmentalists should help the public to understand that a nuclear power plant does not cause any of these. It does not pollute the sea; the radioactive water used is not released anywhere, it is contained inside the reactor itself as it is a part of the system. Construction-wise, the land required for a nuclear power plant is obviously much smaller than any other power plant. The mining process and waste issues have been highlighted earlier. The other concerns that need to be prioritized are the NIMBY effect (Not In My Backyard). Having a nuclear power plant near any populated area sure impacts the neighbourhood. This cannot be avoided as human are prone to fear the unknown; no matter how much awareness campaign we are willing to conduct, there will always be those who are not listening and resort to their own opinions. Further studies should be addressed to this matter. Radiation is a very powerful word; as if radiation only exists if nuclear power existed and there is no other source of radiation. This misleading concept could be contradicted by educating the public and providing them with scientific facts, not myths, and the information should not come from people who are profiting from nuclear industry as the public would only reacts as the words that came out are not true.
Looking at the recent nuclear technologies, the respondents are correct to highlight that a nuclear power plant, or anything that human designs; let it be other power plants or skyscrapers; could not withstand any natural disaster beyond its design limits. But the public should be informed that nuclear power plant is designed up to the expected natural disasters, but not to a natural disaster that would happen once in a thousand year, such as the Fukushima incident which is not metaphorically, but literally the act of God. From another different perspective, the safety designs nowadays could avoid a nuclear disaster from human error that would affects area beyond the power plant itself. This is agreed by the respondents but more of this information should be advertised to the public as they are unsure of the truth of this fact. One opinion is to produce a dedicated video that would be easily understood without much complexity of scientific nuclear understanding; a video advertisement illustrating how the safety design kicks in once any threat is detected.
When presented with the most crucial question; which is considering to have a nuclear power plant in Malaysia, it clearly proved that those who opposed the idea are good hearted, but have the wrong facts.
Proliferation could not be easily achieved. It can only be done by manipulating the sensitive technology of reprocessing uranium; which is only available in few countries. It could not be done like how the movies depicted, it requires a large enough facility as the size of the power plant with enough electricity supply, and impossible to do in laboratories or warehouses.
Regarding the waste management issue, the public should be aware that spent nuclear fuel and highly radioactive waste is packed in a way that it is required to maintain integrity during routine, normal, and severe accident/attack conditions. It means that after an accident the integrity must be such that there is no breach of containment, no increase in radiation to a level which would endanger the public or those involved in rescue and clean-up operations. The packaging is tested to withstand a free drop of 9 m in most vulnerable orientation and 9 m drop onto spike for penetration tested. In thermal test, it was set on fire of 800 degree Celsius for 30 minutes. The packaging is also immersed in water, 15 m deep for 8hours, or the enhanced immersion test, 200 m deep into the water for 1 hour.
The dream of using renewable energy for baseload generation remains a dream. Despite the sunny weather all year long, solar energy could not meet the demand. It is proven where one of the pilot project, a 3kW solar grid in Universiti Tenaga Nasional is only generating around 1kW on average. The best way to utilize solar energy is by installing solar panel at home, not a solar power plant. It would destroy 100 times of land area when compared to area required to construct a nuclear power plant of the same capacity. Not to mention its efficiency at best is around 40% at the moment, and the cost is too high, especially for the 40% efficiency solar panel. It is very wrong to say that there is no maintenance cost for solar panel as it also require batteries, and it must be disposed from time to time. Wind in Malaysia is not as strong as the wind sources in Europe, and it is intermittent. The efficiency and area required is also unacceptable. Geothermal and Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion obviously could not generate more than 100MW and only available at certain location. The cost for undersea cable is already at 12M/km, whereby the closest site is 200km from land; which is in Sabah. Not to mention the construction of the plant would destroy the marines ecosystem. Burning biomass on its own would generate a little energy, it is only rationalized to be used as torrefaction in coal-fired power plant. Burning means producing carbon dioxide, which is green house gas. Thus, it defeats the purpose of green technology, and also not renewable. In Malaysia, the main biomass source comes from palm industry, which is a unreliable resource as it competes with other uses from other industries. It has to be realized that Renewable Energy or not, sacrifices have to be made.
Highlighting the issue of the capabilities of the nuclear power plant workers is wise. We never have a commercial nuclear reactor, but we do have an operating reactor that is used for research purpose and constructed on November 1, 1981. It is capable of generating 1MW of electricity. The various strategies taken to enhance the safety and security of the RTP are in line with international practice and standards, will assure the safe operation of the last 25 years is continued in the future. So, it does answer the question do we have the professionals required in order to operate a nuclear power plant, and the answer in YES. Operating a 1MW reactor and a 1000MW power plant is not the same, agreed, but we also have numerous specialists in nuclear, and we are indeed training more by sending them to study in nuclear engineering mostly overseas so that we are prepared to operate a nuclear power plant by the year 2021.
Corruption in Malaysia should not be related in judging nuclear energy. It should not be viewed politically. Nuclear Power Plant will also be monitored by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). We will not be alone. This is also demonstrated in quality and maintenance of the Triga Puspati Reactor. This matter should be addressed in future studies.
If the public think that there is no need to increase our electricity generation capacity in the near future, it is wrong. As quoted from TNB, at present, the peak demand stands at 15,072 MW, as recorded on 25 May 2010. This translates into reserve margin of approximately 40%. The reserve level is not here to stay. With annual load growth and retirement of existing capacity as they reach their economic life, the reserve margin will drop eventually. Electricity demand in Peninsular Malaysia is expected to grow at 3-5% annually from 2010 until 2020. In 2020, peak demand is forecasted at 20,669 MW while energy generation is projected to reach 138,510 GWh. In Peninsular Malaysia, there is no new plant scheduled for installation from now until 2015. Hence, with no added capacity from new plants, higher electricity demand and retirements of older plants, reserve margin is expected to reduce. In 2015, it would settle at approximately 20%. Nuclear Power Plant is only expected to operate in 2021. So, it does make sense to why we should increase our electricity generation capacity.
Saying that the process of constructing to decommissioning of nuclear power plant is not entirely true. Nuclear plant construction costs are generally higher, compared to coal or gas-fired plants, because of higher level of technology, sophistication of equipment, quality of material & quality assurance standards, true. Despite the highest capital cost and Operations & Maintenance (O&M) costs among other sources, overall production cost for a nuclear plant is still the lowest. Nuclear power plants have achieved the lowest production costs between coal, natural gas and oil since 2001. Production costs are the O&M and fuel costs of a power plant. Fuel costs make up 26% of the overall production costs of nuclear power plants. Fuel costs for coal, natural gas and oil, however, make up more than 80% of the production costs. In addition, fuel costs are one area of steadily increasing efficiency and cost reduction. For instance, in Spain, nuclear electricity cost was reduced by 29% over 1995-2001. Another cost associated with nuclear plants is decommissioning costs. For nuclear power plants, any cost figure normally includes spent fuel management, plant decommissioning and final waste disposal. These costs, while usually external for other technologies, are internal for nuclear power (i.e. they have to be paid or set aside securely by the utility generating the power, and the cost passed on to the customer in the actual tariff). Decommissioning costs are about 9-15% of the initial capital cost of a nuclear power plant. But when discounted, they contribute only a few percent to the investment cost and even less to the generation cost. Total cost for spent fuel management and final nuclear or radioactive waste disposal, or back-end costs of the nuclear fuel cycle usually accounts for an additional 10% of the nuclear electricity cost. However, if the spent fuel is to be directly disposed of, instead of being reprocessed to extract the unused uranium and plutonium produced in routine nuclear power plant operation, the costs may be less.
In conclusion, the negativity are the results of fearing the unknown, because they are afraid of what they do not know. Nuclear is a very powerful and terrorizing word. It does not sound friendly due to Japan atomic bombing tragedy and the famous Fukushima leakage. The good parts of nuclear has not been exposed to the citizens. There is lack of knowledge about positives and negatives of a nuclear power plant plus the strong belief that alternative ways to get power is still available. The public are too naive about the reality where they believe electricity could be generated without sacrificing anything from their lives. They need to be educated.