Malaysia gears up

10 August 2017

Rumyana Vakarelska looks at Malaysia’s progress towards its first nuclear power plant.

In Malaysia, the government and nuclear authority are investigating the possibility of construction of the country’s first nuclear plant. If the plan goes ahead – it is pending final governmental approval – Malyasia will become the first ASEAN country to become a nuclear power producer, after Vietnam suspended its plans for civil nuclear generation.

The final report from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Integrated Nuclear Infrastructure Review (INIR) Phase 1 mission will be tabled by the Cabinet within weeks, said Nancy Shukri, a minister in the Malaysian Prime Minister’s office who looks at energy policy. INIR missions evaluate interested newcomer countries’ status and state-of-readiness to develop a nuclear power programme. The INIR mission has made five recommendations and ten suggestions
to assist the national authorities in making progress in infrastructure development for new nuclear. “The main recommendations in the report are on strengthening government commitment and enhancing public awareness to progress further towards making a knowledgeable decision,” according to Shukri’s statement. The INIR mission also recommended that Malaysia further develop the legal and regulatory infrastructure for nuclear, and plans for financing construction and developing an owner-operator of the plant.

Now the Malaysian government is considering 19 nuclear infrastructure issues identified by the IAEA. Key possible challenges include public perception, decommissioning and nuclear waste management, as well as the cost of nuclear, and nuclear power’s competitiveness with other sources power plants.

Currently, Malaysia relies on natural gas for nearly 55% of its electricity needs, and coal for roughly 34%, so one of the key motivations for undertaking nuclear power is diversifying its energy mix. It would increase the country’s low-carbon generation.

Following recent visits to explore new nuclear in the UK and China, Shukri said that “moving forward, the government would keep communicating and get feedback from the people”, focusing on public education and the development of a local skill base for new nuclear. During her visit to China, Shukri looked at sustainable nuclear power technology and infrastructure, implementation, and achieving public understanding and acceptance.

Dr Mohd Zamzam Jaafar, the first chief executive of Malaysia’s Nuclear Energy Programme Implementing Organisation (NEPIO), set up in 2011, said that winning public consent has been harder since the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi accident in Japan. Prior to Fukushima, Malaysia planned to build two nuclear power plants. Jaafar said that building a Malaysian nuclear plant by 2021/22, as originally intended, is now no longer realistic. A more likely date is 2025.

Linking public acceptance and skills

Linking public acceptance of nuclear with skill development for the nuclear sector may serve as a good indication of the sustainability of Malaysia’s approach to its nuclear future.

“Malaysia is a potentially very important new entrant to the global nuclear power community”, said George Borovas, a partner and global head of nuclear at the Shearman & Sterling law firm. “Exhibiting strong leadership, the various government agencies and stakeholders have been studying and preparing for many years for the introduction of nuclear power in accordance with IAEA standards and best practices”, Borovas said.

As a result, in the last few years, nuclear engineering export countries such as China, Japan, South Korea and Russia have spent considerable time and effort in seeking to sell reactor technology to Malaysia. Among the potential designs that could be considered are Rosatom’s VVER, Westinghouse’s AP1000, Korean Electric Power Corporation’s APR1400 or China’s HPR 1000.

Malaysia is also currently chairing the Nuclear Energy Cooperation-Sub-Sector Network (NEC-SSN), a programme under the ASEAN Ministers of Energy Meeting (AMEM), so the decision over its nuclear power may affect similar decisions in other aspiring countries in the region.

Following Malaysia, Bangladesh and Vietnam (despite its current suspended plans) could be next to become nuclear countries in southeast Asia. 

Malaysia The Prai CCGT power plant at Butterworth, Penang, Malaysia

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