Malaysia: Non-nuclear energy options

A blogger suggests that before going nuclear, Malaysia should first explore whether it can better manage its varied energy resources more efficiently and effectively.

1 comment

  • Cross posting to the blog itself:

    As someone who is studying nuclear energy, I want to address many of the things you said here. It’s fantastic to see a blogger expressing interest in these issues and offering their participation.

    I should point out that Chernobyl involved neither a mushroom cloud of green from radiation, but it doesn’t matter very much to the debate at hand. Of greater importance is the energy situation and perceptions of it in Malaysia.

    Some context:
    From 1990 until today, Malaysia’s economy has ballooned and electricity use with it. Demand increased and electricity production from coal, oil, and natural gas followed it closely with hydro production almost constant (not including the soon to be online Bakun Dam)

    Malaysia’s energy comes from oil (41%), natural gas (35%), and coal (15%). Almost all of the rest is from hydro and the rest of the renewables remain as a rounding error. Half of the coal is imported. Half of natural gas production is exported (with few imports). And oil is basically all imported.

    I am sympathetic to your frustration with TNB, and I hear very similar attacks on the electric utilities in my own nation. If you can fix that, then all the better, but how and who should do it? How else should the sector be managed? And how can we answer the key question – where will the energy come from? Double your natural gas production and use it all domestically within 2 decades – good, but with future economic growth that will probably only keep it at 35%. Develop all new hydro possible – great, but that only adds a handful of GW upon a grid that is 23.3 GW and straining under current growth, not to mention irrevocable damage to rain forests and species extinction, which is possibly the greatest damage humans can do.

    But then there’s oil and coal. Global demand for these will continue to soar and Malaysia must DECREASE what it uses to remain competitive.

    I agree with you that the issue is framed very poorly. Nuclear isn’t Malaysia’s only option. To tell the truth, this isn’t about meeting future energy needs. They are already not met domestically since Malaysia is a rampant energy importer. It is less energy independent than the US and the EU in fact. Today it imports what it needs and it will do so in the future – the question is how much. This may or may not be a big difference for citizens, but for major industries it makes all the difference. In fact, the entire issue comes down to global competitiveness. If Malaysia becomes more energy independent then it can keep a strong export economy but otherwise it could fail to compete.

    Nuclear aids in these economic goals because the fuel (which needs to be imported) is a small cost relative to the cost of the plants and their technology. Thus a nation with few energy resources can use human resources to compete with energy superpowers. But TNB is unlikely to accomplish this. Possibly so. Nuclear power is a major undertaking and Japan and South Korea had to become experts in the technology to use it like they do, it’s difficult to see Malaysia do that.

    It will not happen this way. Nuclear power in Malaysia will be dependent on foreign technology and services. That model has failed in the past (look at the Philippines), but times have changed. The UAE is buying nuclear plants in a near turnkey manner, and the nuclear nations are eager to sell plants in this way. Additionally, new plant designs are helping this change. Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) are designed to operate in a nation with little domestic expertise and do so safely. But we all know human factors are important for safety, so it’s likely that the vendor will be involved in operation and training for the life of the plant. Areva, Westinghouse, and all the companies will have special designs that allow companies like TNB to run a nuclear plant with only a modest educated workforce.

    There remains an important question. If the goal of energy independence is global competitiveness, then how will foreign technology aid in this goal? Well, it still provides emission-free power and a secured energy resource once it’s built. It’s easy to see how a national government would want this, and I think that’s where the frustration should be directed. TNB will act in it’s own interest. It’s the government’s job to oversee them and do what’s best for the people. It’s also the government that wants energy independence for the purpose of global competitiveness.

    To conclude, it’s not about options like you say. But hydro and natural gas will not “solve” the problem (of energy imports) that will not be solved regardless of the nation’s choices.

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