Let’s talk nuclear energy

Many of us are fearful when we hear about nuclear energy.

This is reasonable, following the devastation of the atomic bomb dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in 1942, the nuclear power plant accident in Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986, and the recent accident in Fukushima, Japan in 2011.

Yet there is an inevitable growing demand for radioactive and nuclear technology for the benefit of the economy – for industrial, agricultural, medical and research purposes. Following the terrorist attack in September 2001 in the U.S., nuclear security institutions around the world has since been strengthened, hence to date we have yet to see attacks involving nuclear or radiation facilities.

Nuclear application in Malaysia is regulated by the Atomic Energy Licensing Board (AELB), a national nuclear regulatory authority under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MOSTI).

There are over 1600 licensed facilities in the country that utilise radioactive materials for quality assurance in oil and gas services, inspection of soil in civil construction, for education purposes at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) and for research at the Malaysian Nuclear Agency, also under the purview of MOSTI.

Only one nuclear reactor has been set up in our country, albeit a relatively small one, at the Malaysian Nuclear Agency for research purposes.

I was invited to the International Conference on Nuclear Security early last month in December, organised by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA was established in 1957, in response to the fear of nuclear we all are too familiar about, towards the discoveries and many uses of nuclear technology.

Since then the IAEA has been an intergovernmental forum where 169 Member States convene regularly to discuss scientific and technical co-operation in nuclear for peaceful purposes. Malaysia is one of early participants, being a member state since 1969 as we acknowledge our international commitment and responsibility.

Back at the conference, I am extremely proud of our Malaysian team working at the IAEA.

The Nuclear Security Division is currently headed by YM Dato’ Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan, former Director-General of AELB.

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Presented a token of appreciation to YM Dato’ Abdul Aziz Raja Adnan on the right, together with Mr. Hamrah Mohd Ali, Director-General of Atomic Energy Licensing Board Malaysia.

 

There are also eight other Malaysian professionals serving in this and other areas, such as in nuclear applications, safety and safeguards.

12 more local experts, from AELB, authorities and the National Security Council are on short assignments at the IAEA. Besides helping the IAEA to develop strategies for nuclear security, the Malaysian team has always done their best in securing the best deals for our country.

This year, we look forward to the signing of Practical Arrangements with the IAEA, effectively elevating our status from an assistance receiver to a partner. Malaysia would be a hub for training, where the trainers would be experts from only Malaysia, and a hub for the testing and maintenance of radiation detection equipment.

Malaysia has been implementing nuclear security in accordance with the Nuclear Security Plans set by the IAEA since 2005. Nuclear security is institutionalised through the national security agenda and we took a strategic move by starting out with capacity building.

We promoted nationwide programs to create and retain talents in the field of nuclear.

Our AELB developed a Nuclear Security Support Centre after a model by the IAEA, through which we coordinated national training programs and to expand our role in nuclear security in this region.

One of the initiatives by this Centre was to negotiate a dedicated training module on nuclear security during the recruitment exercise of the Royal Malaysian Customs and the Royal Malaysian Police.

Thinking ahead, Nuclear Security as an academic subject was introduced to UKM especially as part of their Nuclear Science program. Malaysia is then poised to handle nuclear security matters by ensuring a sustainable generation of experts in understanding nuclear security.

We also have been hosting international visits since 2012 to share best practices in coordinating nuclear security.

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With the Director of IAEA, Mr Yukiya Amano.

These countries include Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Egypt, Qatar, Sudan, Indonesia, Viet Nam, Albania, Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Being well-known for our hospitality and generosity in sharing our expertise and experiences, we welcome more of such diplomatic visits to Malaysia.

To continue to have access to radioactive and nuclear materials as required by our industries and for medical purposes, Member States of the IAEA have to adhere to international nuclear regimes; one is to have sufficient infrastructure.

Mosti through the AELB invested some RM 15 million to strengthen our nuclear security by enhancing our nuclear and radiation detection architecture, and safeguarding our inventoried nuclear materials.

In 2005 Malaysia initiated efforts to protect the country’s land and air points of entry from any threat of illegal transport of nuclear and other radioactive materials by installing Radiation Portal Monitors.

Then, in 2009, we began to expand these monitoring facilities to our ports where enormous volumes of cargo enter the country, by collaborating with the United States Megaports Initiative, the European Union and of course, the IAEA.

Last November, Malaysia and Thailand made history as the first two countries to test the Joint Field Exercise draft module at the Bukit Kayu Hitam – Sadao border crossing, formulated by the IAEA.

Every day, this border sees movements of more than 1500 vehicles and 5000 people.

Authorities from both states made an effort to ensure that radiological or special nuclear material is not smuggled or transported illicitly across the border.

After a year of preparations, about a hundred custom officials, police officers and radiation detection experts from both countries came together to put their nuclear security systems to test. This exercise not only strengthened nuclear security capabilities of both Malaysia and Thailand, but also the nuclear security network and stability in the region. Therefore, this is also seen as a success story for South East Asia and the IAEA, when this exercise is documented and published on the IAEA website entitled, “Boosting Nuclear Security in South East Asia”.

We committed ourselves to a number of bilateral relationships including through Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs), to install infrastructure, exchange best practices and explore human resources development opportunities, with these countries but not limited to, the U.S., Korea, Indonesia and Australia.

Evidently all these efforts in nuclear security show that Malaysia pursue nuclear for peace, and not for destruction.

We ensure that we are in control of nuclear security, and pledged transparency and the promotion of peaceful nuclear applications.

Moving forward, Malaysia has been discussing the use of nuclear energy to generate power.

Nuclear power in Malaysia has been addressed since the 10th Malaysia Plan 2011 – 2015 to explore its opportunities to meet energy demand and to diversify energy mix especially in Peninsular Malaysia.

It is identified as one of the Entry Point Projects in the Economic Transformation Programme 2010 – 2020, under Oil, Gas and Energy sector. We are to build a nuclear power plant with the capacity to generate 1,000 megawatt by 2030.

Globally, we can look at several partnership and business cooperation models for technology transfer for nuclear, such as the collaboration between United Arab Emirates and South Korea, and Bangladesh’s turn-key project with Russia. Understandably Malaysians would be wary of the risks coming from the construction and operation of a power plant, due to the absence of local experience.

However the biggest challenge that has to be addressed could be public acceptance.

The 11th Malaysia Plan has called for a step-up in creating public awareness in nuclear energy.

Advanced countries such as Japan, France and South Korea have taken prudent approaches by incorporating the understanding of nuclear technology and its application in the national education curriculum.

Social media can also be an effective platform for authorized sources to provide accurate information.

Malaysia has to carefully deliberate its nuclear ambitions in view of the economic crisis and political instability around the world. Threats from shared borders and non-state actors such as terrorist groups are becoming bolder than ever in pursuit of their evil objectives.

For a start, I think Malaysia has done well in managing nuclear security, by closely cooperating with neighbouring and regional countries, and playing an active role in the IAEA. I urge everyone to be proactive in the engagements on nuclear energy, discussing and criticizing fairly, for public good.

 

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