In 2010, the government of Malaysia laid out an approximately decade-long plan to bring nuclear energy to the country. That year officials completed a pre-feasibility study into utilizing nuclear power to meet future energy needs and diversify its energy resources. They determined that two one-gigawatt reactors would mark the country’s first foray into nuclear energy generation. According to the plan, the “point of no return” — when the country selects the final bidder and location of the reactors — will occur in 2014, with construction of the first reactor finished by 2020.
However, since the accident at Fukushima Daiichi, opponents of Malaysia’s nuclear energy aspirations have increased their rhetoric, and government officials have responded by stressing the country’s need for nuclear — while still also slowing down the timetable.
Nuclear Needed to ‘Correct an Imbalance’
Energy Minister Peter Chin suggested the plan in December 2010 “to correct an imbalance” in the nation’s energy sources. More than 60 percent of the country’s electricity generation comes from gas, with the rest coming from coal. As of February, 35 countries around the globe were debating whether to begin their own nuclear energy programs, according to Lloyds Register.
In March of 2012 the Malaysian government said that while its natural oil reserves would last until 2021, it was investigating alternative energy sources to power the country after that point. Solar power, hydro power, wind power and nuclear power were all options.
Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin said the country had been preparing for the time when it might turn to nuclear energy, including training in-country experts and making sure to follow through on the various obligations outlined in during the 2010 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, D.C. His remarks came shortly before the 2012 NNS in Seoul, South Korea.
‘Point of No Return’ Concerns
At the start of 2012, the Malaysian government was quietly slowing down its plans to construct two 1,000 MW nuclear power plants, according to a senior government source cited by Reuters.
The decision came after environmentalists targeted a plan by Australian rare earths miner Lynas Corp to commission a processing plant in central Malaysia that would have to dispose of radioactive waste.
In October, a collection of more than 30 non-governmental organizations came together to call out the Malaysian government on its continued investigation of nuclear energy, specifically on what they said was the decision to move forward “without sufficient public information, consultation or debate.”
The group’s concerns include safety, the accumulation of spent fuel and cost.
Preparedness Studies and Moving Forward
The Malaysian government is engaged in multiple studies to exactly how it should go about starting a nuclear energy program, should it decide to do so.
- A study on legal and regulatory preparedness should be complete by the beginning of next year.
- The government is still preparing a full feasibility study that will look at, among other issues, putting together a Nuclear Power Infrastructure Development Plan and determining where they country might actually place nuclear power plants.
- The government is still in the early consideration phase of a study on how to handle the ownership and operation of a theoretical nuclear power plant.
“These studies are to ensure that all the preparatory aspects have been taken into account in detail and in a comprehensive manner early should nuclear power generation be necessary to meet the nation’s energy needs in the future,” he said.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak outlined the multiple studies in response to a request on information about the current state of the country’s nuclear efforts. He was careful to note that the government has not yet reached a final decision either way.
A Re-iteration of Intent — For Energy Generation Only
The Malaysian government just recently re-iterated its intention to develop a nuclear power program for the sole purpose of energy generation — not weapons creation.
Malaysia’ permanent representative to the United Nations, Hussein Haniff, made this clear in his statement at the plenary meeting of the 67th Session of the UN General Assembly on Agenda Item 85: Report of the International Atomic Energy Agency, in New York.
“As with other developing countries, Malaysia fully supports the peaceful use of nuclear power as a source of energy by member states,” he said.
Hussein also said the accident at Fukushima Daiichi in Japan, as well as the many lessons learned by the international community in its aftermath, were given careful and thorough consideration.
“There are certainly valuable lessons to be learnt. In this regard, Malaysia welcomes the formulation and implementation of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) Action Plan on Nuclear Safety following the unprecedented Fukushima accident,” he said.