December 02, 2010

New Source of Energy

Even as an Oil and Gas (O&G) producing country and the commodity price that shot through the ceiling for the past 20 years or so, Malaysia should not at all time depending so much to the O&G as their main source of energy (or pocket money for its spending). There will be times when the fuel used up and the price will be so volatile that we will not be able to depend on it. The cost of maintaining and producing O&G has been increasing tremendously that the government is considering other alternative source of energy. And with reliable source of energy and reasonable (relatively cheap) maintenance expenditure, all road leads to the nuclear energy. Tenaga Nasional for instance is pushing the government for the decision on utilization of the nuclear energy, hoping to be finalized by year end. In fact the study of using nuclear as an alternative energy has been started way in the 70s but was put on hold since PETRONAS and the O&G industry is in the limelight.

There are pros and cons of having nuclear power. The concern of expensive maintenance and security matters; radiation overblown for instance were highlighted since the very beginning. Tun M is his 24 May’s blog entry has also commented on the difficulties of disposing the nuclear waste, other than the danger of using the nuclear material. I asked myself since when Tun M put concern, worried in front of his vision? Anyway, he is no longer in the Office.

Malaysia’s plan to have the vision 2020 (original idea generated by Tun M himself) will be put on hold when natural O&G are not sufficient enough to power up the industry concerned or dry out, expectedly in 10 years time. The low electricity rates currently we enjoying are depending so much on the price of O&G. Cheap energy is the main source of industrialization in this country. Should the O&G no longer applicable, and the price of electricity is no longer cheap, you believe the likes of Perwaja Steel, Proton will survive? We are talking before 2020 here. With the above uncertainty of future supply and volatile fuel price, I believe nuclear power should be an option not to be missed out. In fact it could be the only choice of energy for us in the future.

Danger and hazard? There were concern and worries that need to be highlighted. No doubt. But then again by the time Malaysia has its first nuclear plant, the concern on safety and maintenance of nuclear disposal could be solved. If we start now, perhaps we might need another 5-6 years for the plant to start operation. If we keep talking before making any decision, we might need another 10 years from now. I say we should act and implement. Obviously we are way behind Vietnam which has started the nuclear initiatives 9 years back. South Korea has lots of nuclear power plant that is considered safe and reliable, accredited by the Word Association of Nuclear Operators, pushing their country as the 13th largest economic power from 177th position in the 50s. At the end of last year, 16% of the energy demand came from nuclear supply and the trend of utilizing this type of energy is stable since the 80s. Should we in future rely on our tourism industry to climb the ladder?

Well, this posting is not intended to talk whether we should or should not engage in the nuclear industry. Let someone else more expert in this area to discuss about this (Prof Riedle perhaps). One may also browse thru and find lots of interesting article on the pros and cons of nuclear power as an alternative source of energy in Malaysia. What I’m interested was in the research and education part of this. Should the institution start to engage and offer education/research in nuclear physics? Do we have a market for physics graduate in Malaysia?


To do research, institution needs a good foundation. Research cannot stand alone i.e. you cannot have noble laureate working on his own without support from dedicated staff and students. Undergraduate and Postgraduate studies will provide the needed support for research to bloom. Should the institution wish to engage in nuclear research, it must have a good foundation studies in physics. Now the question is will our ‘big sponsor’ agree to this? Will they also explore into other alternative energy source such as nuclear, nuclear physics? This is what Tenaga Nasional has been doing for the past 10 years and I believe the institution under their flagship will engage into physics studies in due time.

The second question was will the government or the industry are able to support graduates from physics or nuclear studies? i.e. employability issue. This is another element to be highly considered as physics is always regarded as a foundation, not a specialized studies, that will not suit the needs of the industry. Well I may be wrong in justifying this but even Civil and Electrical Engineering are having the same problem with their graduates’ employability.

I will leave both questions to be answered by readers (if any - obviously I do not have the answer to the questions either).

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