May 14, 2010

Tun Mahathir against nuclear plants in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, May 14 – Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad is against building nuclear plants in Malaysia because of the dangers posed from spent nuclear fuel, saying its disposal would have an adverse effect on public safety.

The Malaysian Insider reported yesterday that Putrajaya has identified Pahang, Johor and Terengganu as the possible states for a proposed nuclear power plant due to the availability of remote locations that are close to water sources, in line with international rules.

“Personally, I am against nuclear power plants and anything that involves nuclear except for medical use because the scientists have not yet understood the power of nuclear material,” the former prime minister told reporters here today.

“Once you activate the uranium or whatever, you cannot deactivate it. So we have a problem of nuclear waste which is accumulating throughout the world. In America, you paid the Red Indians money in order to bury the nuclear wastes in their reserves. That is not very good,” he added.

Energy, Green Technology, and Water Minister Datuk Seri Peter Chin recently announced a proposal to set up a nuclear plant has been approved and that the plant would start operating from 2021, with plans to use it as an alternative energy source by 2025.

A nuclear plant typically needs an efficient cooling system. Most plants are designed to include the visually familiar cooling towers — which look like giant chimneys — and some use sea-water to cool down the water used in the steam turbine.

An essential part of a plant are its nuclear safety systems which ensure that it is possible to shut the reactor down, keep it deactivated, and prevent the release of radioactive material during emergency events.

The handling of spent nuclear fuel is more critical compared to fresh fuel, as after nuclear fuel rods are spent, they will be stored for about five years in a spent fuel pool on site.

The spent rods will then be stored in another on-site dry storage, before being transported elsewhere for storage or recycling. There are bigger risks when transporting or storing nuclear fuel rods because they will still be radioactive for more than a hundred years.

However Dr Mahathir said further studies need to be conducted on activated uranium before the country seriously considers building a nuclear plant.

“So until we understand more about the science of activated uranium. I think we shouldn’t use and that is my view but of course if the government wants to use then I cannot stop them. Duringmy time, I had already stipulated that no nuclear power plant will be used and built in this country,” he said.

He added Malaysia is already facing problems with the disposal of ‘amang’ from tin mines.

“In Malaysia, we do have nuclear wastes which the public are not aware of. We have to bury the amang, the by-products from tin mining in Perak. It is not radio-active but it is not good to handle. They activate it because they wanted to use it for color TV but then color TV used other materials for the TV screen.

“This resulted in excess of activated amang and we had a problem in trying to get rid of these amang and buried it in Perak, deep in the ground with concrete. But still the place is still not safe to go and they have about one square mile that is dangerous,” he said.

Studies have shown that tin plants processing amang, or tin tailings, have known to have radiological risks. The process of using large volume of water used to separate the concentration of amang has been associated with giving rise to radiological environmental problems.

The processing plants in Malaysia are also exempted from licensing by the Atomic Engergy Licensing board which result in the plants from being regulated properly and increases the risk of abuse by the operators.

There are currently 113,700 hectares of former mining land in the country.

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